For the next three weeks Dharun Ravi will be putting on the act of his life. The role he’s vying for is the “unassuming teenager,” as opposed to the guy who instigated his roommate’s jump from the George Washington Bridge. In addition to every major news outlet in the country, his peers at Rutgers University, the deceased’s parents in New Jersey, and a jury of 16 will hang on his every word. It’s the audition that will make or break him, in every sense of the word. But he’s only revisiting a part that’s been played before.
Tyler Clementi jumped the day after he and his boyfriend were unknowingly recorded by Ravi’s laptop. After getting a text requesting use of the room, Ravi took great pains to ensure that Clementi’s relations were open to anyone who cared.
The conflict involved several factors: A hidden video feed on G-mail chat, an open invitation on Ravi’s Twitter feed, a “viewing party” in the room next door and the resulting disappointment when, having realized that he was being filmed for the second time, Clementi unplugged the computer’s power strip. After texting a friend that “it got messed up and didn’t work,” Ravi waited in a friend’s room for word that Clementi and his guest had finished.
Prosecutors are almost certain that Clementi saw the invitation on Ravi’s twitter feed the next morning. And at 8:42 p.m., Clementi would turn to Facebook for what would be his final status update: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”
Beneath its layers, the story of Dharun Ravi and Tyler Clementi is just another exercise in respect and chance. Respect, because Ravi’s lack of it resulted in a senseless death; and chance, because, had a few of the variables been tweaked, an altercation that’s made news nationwide may have never left the dorm room. But instead of pointing fingers, anyone truly frustrated by Clementi’s suicide would do well to turn the microscopes on themselves.
By addressing Ravi’s situation, we’re also addressing social media. By addressing social media, we’re addressing the role it plays in our lives. It’s not until we’ve begun to assess ourselves that make progress. Unfortunately, that will almost never be the case.
Ravi and Clementi’s engagements will remain a two-way affair, with the microscope focused on guilty and innocent more than any sort of widespread evaluation. No internal reflection. No call for change.
Whether Ravi sticks his role or not, Clementi bowed out. No amount of whistle blowing is going to bring him back. However, the next best thing would be to prevent similar future cases — something that can only be accomplished after the focus is been redirected.
Ravi’s fate is important, but he’s only one person. The problem at hand is generational, and it’ll persist until it’s addressed for what it is.
Bryan Washington is a sociology freshman and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.