Jane Clementi, whose son died by suicide as a result of cyberbullying, spoke at Gonzaga University Monday night in a program designed to raise awareness about suicide prevention.
Her son, Tyler, was a freshman at Rutgers University when his roommate broadcast a video of him online in an intimate moment with another man. Several days later, Tyler committed suicide.
A year after her son’s death, Clementi founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation, whose mission is to end online and offline bullying, in schools, work places and faith communities.
This experiences bursted what Clementi called her “bubble” which prevented her from seeing the injustice and inequalities in the world. It sparked her desire to change the culture of bullying — wanting to get rid of it all together. According to Clementi, the key to eliminating bullying is empathy.
“You will be hearing me say that word a lot tonight,” she said.
Clementi highlighted the importance of looking at situations from others’ point of view and how in many cases, those who are having suicidal thoughts do not show outward symptoms.
“Because not everyone shows symptoms, we may not see the pain someone is in from the outside in,” Clementi said. “You don’t know what will trigger someone. Because you don’t know where they are or have been, you must treat them with kindness and empathy.”
Clementi broke bullying into several categories: physical, verbal, social and cyber. Her speech discussed cyberbullying, which she considers the most extreme version of bullying because of the permanence it has.
“Once something is in cyberspace, it can be seen by 1,000 people,” she said. “It also allows you to say your hurtful words and not see the pain it causes.”
To eliminate this kind of act, Clementi and her foundation are calling for bystanders to become “upstanders.”
To become an upstander, Clementi suggests three steps: intervene, report it and reach out and speak to target.
“Remaining silent and saying nothing is more harmful,” she said.
In addition to the Tyler Clementi Foundation, Clementi is part of the Day 1 campaign, an organization aimed at stopping bullying. She is also working on the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which is geared toward installing trainings in universities about preventing harassment.
The act also suggests that counseling be provided for victims of harassment as well as for the perpetrators. As of now, the act has not been passed
Clementi closed by stating that even in the darkest of times, her trajectory has always been to move forward, and that is what she uses her foundation to do: find ways to turn one’s worst memory into something that can be helpful to others.
“At first I didn’t want to share Tyler with anyone,” Clementi said. “But years later, I realized that this was a blessing in disguise because it started a dialogue of the need to stop bullying on and off line.”
Kendra Andrews is a sports editor. Follow her on Twitter @kendra__andrews.