By Atiya Hasan – Houston, TX
“Dear Dharun, It has been a pleasure watching you grow into a caring and responsible person. You are a wonderful son and brother. . . . Keep up your good work. Hold on to your dreams and always strive to achieve your goals. We know that you will succeed,” read the message in Plainsboro High School North’s 2010 yearbook in a space bought by Dharun Ravi’s parents at the time of his graduation. So what turned this promising young man into one of today’s most talked about court cases?
Dharun Ravi, 20 years old, was a sophomore at Rutgers University. During his freshman year, on September 22, 2010, his roommate Tyler Clementi, 18 years old, committed suicide by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge following a series of events that undeniably breached Clementi’s privacy.
A few days before the fateful day, Ravi and another student, Molly Wei, used a webcam to spy on Clementi during a romantic encounter with an older man in his dorm room. Two days later, Ravi attempted to set up another viewing and used Twitter to discuss Clementi and what he had seen.
Clementi posted on forums about Ravi and the publicizing of his private life to other students on campus. He even complained to the Resident Assistant and asked for a room change.
After the Resident Assistant visited Ravi and informed him of Clementi’s complaint against him, Ravi sent two text messages apologizing to Clementi only minutes before he took his life. They read:
“I want to explain what happened. Sunday night when you requested to have someone over I didn’t realize you wanted the room in private. I went to Mollys room and I was showing her how I set up my computer so I can access it from anywhere. I turned on my camera and saw you in the corner of the screen and I immediately closed it. I felt uncomfortable and guilty of what happened. Obviously I told people what occurred so they could give me advice. Then Tuesday when you requested the room again I wanted to make sure what happened Sunday wouldn’t happen again and not to video chat me from 930 to 12. Just in case, I turned my camera away and put my computer to sleep so even if anyone tried it wouldn’t work. I wanted to make amends for Sunday night. I’m sorry if you heard something distorted and disturbing but I assure you all my actions were good natured.”
“I’ve known you were gay and I have no problem with it. In fact one of my closest friends is gay and he and I have a very open relationship. I just suspected you were shy about it which is why I never broached the topic. I don’t want your freshman year to be ruined because of a petty misunderstanding, it’s adding to my guilt. You have a right to move if you wish but I don’t want you to feel pressured to without fully understanding the situation.”
This led to a whirlwind of media attention, nationally and internationally, that used this as a prime example of the social persecution of homosexuals and bringing more attention to the epidemic of suicides among young homosexuals.
Ravi and Wei were offered a plea bargain that Wei readily accepted. Ravi, despite being forewarned about his high chances of losing the case, decided to go to trial and denied the plea.
At first the case was portrayed in the media as the outing of a closeted gay by a bully, however, it later came to light that Clementi had already come out to his parents before starting his freshman year. Ravi’s defenders did their best to portray the incident as a prank by an immature kid that ended up getting out of hand.
On April 20, 2011 a grand jury found Ravi guilty on 15 counts, including bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, witness tampering and evidence tampering.
His future remains to be seen.