The following are remarks that I plan to make to the students in the Upper School at tomorrow's Monday assembly.
As has been widely reported in the news, last Wednesday, police recovered the body of Tyler Clementi, age 18, an accomplished violinist and a freshman at Rutgers University from the Hudson. It soon became apparent that Clementi had committed suicide, after leaving a message on his Facebook page on September 22 that read, "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry."
The circumstances that have emerged surrounding Tyler's death are both shocking and deeply sad. We now know that Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate posted a series of harassing messages to Twitter concerning his sexual orientation and broadcast a sexual encounter between Tyler and another young man over iChat. Now Tyler's family has lost a loved one while his roommate and a friend are facing prison sentences.
This story is deeply important to me for two reasons. First, it is important to me because it concerns technology being harnessed by young people to hurt others. If you learn nothing else from me as Tech Director in the time that you attend this school, please take with you this lesson: use technology to showcase your best self. Technology is neutral, it can be used either as a tool to build communities or as a weapon to tear them apart. Social media make it easy to connect with people, to share information, to learn about others. They also make it easy to hide ugly behavior under the protection of anonymity, to spread lies about people, to expose and embarrass others. Technology played a terrible role in what happened to Tyler and technology can not prevent it from happening again. Change has to come through each and every one of you deciding to make good choices. Every time you are about to put something out on the Internet, ask yourself, "am I using these tools showcase my best self? Am I making the world a better, more open, more tolerant place?" If the answer is no, please switch off that camera, log out of that chat, delete that post.
The second reason this incident affected me so deeply is because I am the Advisor for the Gay Straight Alliance. Tyler's story has sparked a nation-wide conversation about the harassment and bullying that GLBT students face in our schools. According to a 2007 survey, 9 out of 10 gay, lesbian and bisexual students report being bullied in school and, according to another study, they are four times more likely to attempt suicide. This sad fact has been proven four times just this last month as young men in different parts of the country took their own lives following bullying and harassment because they were openly gay or even just suspected of being gay. In Texas, it was 13-year-old Asher Brown. In Minnesota, it was 13-year-old Seth Walsh. In Indiana it was 15-year-old Billy Lucas. And in New Jersey, it was 18-year old Tyler Clementi.
But there are things you can do to help reverse this devastating trend. Please join with our GSA to make this school a safe place for all students. Sign up to participate in Ally Week, October 18-22. Speak out if you know of someone who is facing harassment. And, most importantly, ask for help if you feel suicidal.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people age 15 to 24 and nearly one in seven high school students report that they have seriously considered attempting to kill themselves. If you find yourself in this group, please know that you are not alone and that you have options. You can speak to any adult here or call the Trevor Project lifeline at 866-4-U-Trevor.
Please be kind to yourself and be kind to others. Thank you.