Preventing roommate tragedies

By Editorial Board

Dharun Ravi, a former student at Rutgers University, has been indicted on 15 charges for allegedly filming his roommate’s sexual encounter with another man using a webcam and broadcasting it online in September 2010.

His roommate, Tyler Clementi, later committed suicide. In addition to charges of bias intimidation and invasion of privacy related to Clementi’s suicide, Ravi is also charged with evidence tampering for deleting tweets that announced his streaming of the video and invited others to watch. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

Ravi deserves all the punishment coming his way. What he did was disgusting and reprehensible. When he discovered his roommate’s sexual orientation, his response was an attempt to ridicule and humiliate Clementi for it, and that is unacceptable. Sentencing him for his actions enforces the message that bullying and harassment are serious, potentially criminal offenses and not the “harmless pranks” some people try to justify them as.

Punishing Ravi is a good way to start discouraging this sort of hateful behavior, but colleges should take this incident as an opportunity to re-examine the way roommates are grouped together in dorms. This kind of early coordination could prevent such incidents in the future. Ravi and Clementi couldn’t have had a good relationship if it culminated in an incident like this.

Colleges could do more to ensure roommates will get along or, at the very least, not commit hate crimes against one another. Housing applicants could fill out optional questionnaires about their beliefs, opinions and the kinds of people they would be comfortable around. Colleges could also have roommates meet one another much earlier, before they move in, so they can figure out whether they will get along well and anticipate potential problems or conflicts. This could, for example, prevent gay students from getting stuck living with hateful bigots.

Students should remember to respect their roommates’ privacy and personal space. Even if roommates don’t get along particularly well, basic human decency should not be a difficult concept to master. They should respect one another’s private property and honor one another’s requests for private time in the room.

They should also be mindful of their privacy in dorms. They should realize—at least at first—they’re essentially living with strangers and act accordingly until they know how much they can trust one another.