Guilty on All Counts: What Does the Dharun Ravi Verdict Really Mean?
[caption id="attachment_1268" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Image courtesy of CNN News (cnn.com)"][/caption] For those of you who were paying attention, the verdict in the Rutgers University spying case was announced this past Friday. Dharun Ravi, the ill-fated former roommate of Tyler Clementi, was found guilty of some 15 plus counts, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. Though none of the verdict was expressly tied to Clementi’s September 2010 suicide, it was intricately laced throughout the trial and the jury’s deliberation. Now, as Ravi awaits his May 21st sentencing, which could include up to 10 years in jail and deportation to India, the nation is left wondering where the real tragedy is in this case… A Culture of Hate? The prosecution of Ravi has been a tumultuous one at best. Though no one would dream of actually charging him in relation to Celmenti’s death – suicide is far more complicated than one, even one terrible, webcam video – the relationship of his actions recording Clementi’s sexual encounter with another man weighed heavily on the jury and the public’s interpretation of this case. Ravi, like Celmenti, was only 18 years old at the time of the incident. Though born in India, he was raised in the US from the age of two and just a few months out of a New Jersey high school. Though his actions in relation to Celmenti are clearly unacceptable on multiple fronts, as the media ponders his fate in this case, the question of our bias as a country and the role that youthful non-thought should play into sealing a man’s fate are clearly center stage. Who among us didn’t do something insanely stupid as a teen or young adult? Should Ravi be forced to pay for this mistake for the rest of his life? The real issue surrounding this case and its verdict is not simple web spying or even cyberbullying, but rather it is about the homosexual bias so rampant in our culture. What made this crime a felony was its connection to “hate” because of Celementi’s sexual orientation. Yet, by all accounts, including a text message sent on the day Clementi died, Ravi knew and accepted his roommate’s lifestyle. Instead, the decision to record Clementi is more indicative of a stupid, immature young man unaware of the consequences of his actions. Will this verdict stop others from committing the same offense? Maybe. But will it really change the culture of hate that surrounds young homosexual men and women and is leading to their suicides at epidemic numbers? Likely not. Can We Help? Many of the opinion articles swarming the internet about this case sing a similar tune as my own. Though I do not hide my passionate fight for equality – including sexual equality – in school, the workplace and society, I cannot help but feel that the burden placed on Dharun Ravi is so much greater than it needs to be. Like many LGBT advocates and educators, I want to see the day when a difference in one’s sexual preference is perceived in the same way as a difference in one’s hair color. Like many concerned educators and parents, I want to see a day when the concept of “bullying,” whether in person or online, is eliminated from our lexicon completely. Yet, I cannot help but feel that the number of victims that we lose to this struggle is far greater than just Tyler Clementi and others like him. Dahrun Ravi is a victim too. A victim of youthful stupidity and bad choices and a victim of a society that cannot fix itself so instead it turns to the court system to “right” a wrong that is so profoundly more complex.