In the wave of the recent death of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers student who committed suicide after his roommate broadcasted Clementi's sexual activities on the internet, I was thinking about the response to the suicide.
Before I go any further, I should comment on a few things. First, I think it goes without saying that Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi, and his friend Molly Wei, were wrong to publicize Clementi's encounters on the internet. It was a breach of privacy and is contrary to basic norms of civility and decency. I'd like to echo the sentiments by all who were similarly bothered by the activities of Ravi and Wei. Secondly, Clementi's death was tragic. He was clearly in an emotionally fragile state after the broadcast, and felt that there were no resources to assist him such that he resorted to suicide. It is great to see other people shaken into action - as they seek to provide resources for students in similar situations such that these vulnerable students don't turn to such desperate actions. And, of course, it goes without saying that this is a reminder that we should affirm the dignity of all people--regardless of race, religion, political ideology, or sexual orientation.
Given all of this, I was intrigued by an editorial published in the Rutger's student newspaper, The Daily Targum, concerning the reaction to Clementi's reaction that argues people were insensitive to his death by using it as a cause: http://www.dailytargum.com/opinions/media-exploits-university-tragedy-1.2354299.
Perhaps the punchiest bit of the article is the last line: "Let us - family, friends and the University together - mourn for Clementi, and just for him, rather than using him as a martyr for a cause."
I'm going to begin by saying that I disagree with a good bit of the Daily Targum article. The efforts of LGBTQ alliances and other student groups to prevent future deaths like Clementi's are admirable. It's important to ensure that there are resources available for students who feel their situations so desperate that suicide seems like the only option.
This being said, it is important that we give Clementi's death the proper weight and respect it deserves and not reduce his tragic death to an opportunity to launch campaigns. Take for instance, Cindy McCain's comments that Clementi's death is terrible, but "something good will come from it" in relation to her opposition to California's Proposition 8. In linking issues of same sex marriage, about which there can be reasonable disagreement, to issues of bullying and hate crimes (that we all agree are wrong), we're failing to recognize Clementi's death for the tragedy that it was.