Rutgers University aims to be a national leader in the conversation of tolerance and support for young people experiencing bullying, life transitions and LGBTQ issues with the founding of a new center.
Joined by the Clementi family, elected officials, and members of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, Rutgers announced the creation of the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers on Monday morning.
"The center will offer lectures, symposia and training on such topics as the use and misuse of new technologies and social media; youth suicide - particularly among LGBTQ youth and other young people - during the transition to adulthood; adjustment and assimilation into college life; bullying and cyberbullying; and understanding and promoting safe and inclusive social environments," a press release from the university said.
The center will be headed up by director Jeffrey Longhofer, a social worker, applied anthropologist and associate professor of social work at Rutgers, and co-director Susan Furrer, executive director of the Center for Applied Psychology within the Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, the release said.
Clementi, a young gay man who was a freshman at Rutgers University, jumped to his death in Sept. 2010 from the George Washington Bridge after being spied on via webcam by his roommate in their shared dorm while Clementi was being intimate with another man.
Dharun Ravi, Clementi's roommate, was convicted in March 2012 on 15 counts related to his spying on Clementi over the webcam.
Ravi was not charged in connection with Clementi's death.
Ravi was sentenced to a 30-day jail sentence and released early for good behavior.
Clementi's potential has become a "Global opportunity for social change," said Richard L. Edwards, executive vice president for academic affairs at Rutgers.
The center will draw from academic minds at Rutgers and from around the world to design programs meant to create better social situations for vulnerable youth, combat bullying, and find ways to better ease those students into life changes, such as entering college and the working world, he said.
Joe Clementi, Tyler's father, said the center was "Born out of compassionate conversation," and is the beginning of a new chapter for young people in situations similar to Tyler's.
Despite the promise of the center and the joy of its formation, Joe Clementi said the occassion was bittersweet.
"(It is) not without the sadness of not having Tyler here," he said. "We miss him every day."
Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) called the center another step toward equal rights for LGBTQ citizens, and a resource that will provide real assistance to young people.
"I wish it didnt have be such a painful lesson, but I think a lot of good is coming out of this," said Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12).
Holt is a co-sponsor of the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, a bill that would require all colleges in the country that receive federal funding to implement an anti-harassment policy and recognize cyberbullying as a threat to students.
It would also establish a grant program within the U.S. Department of Education to provide financial assistance to colleges and universities looking to create anti-harassment programs.
Co-sponsoring Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) would be re-introducing the bill in the Senate on Monday, the same day as the announcement of the center, Holt said.
Pallone is also a supporter of the bill, which was introduced in March 2011, but was not approved.
Holt said the hope for the center and the bill is to serve as calls for action and catalysts for overdue conversations about tolerance and support.
"There will be change. There already is, and this will bring about even more," he said.
The center's first event will be a March 29th lecture entitled "Growing Up Digital: Embodied Experience in the Virtual Age” presented by author Richard Miller.
For more information on the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers visit www.clementicenter.rutgers.edu.