Holding Dharun Ravi accountable

Holding Dharun Ravi accountable
Dharun Ravi received his verdict today. It remains to be seen whether this will help prevent future cyber-bullying or related harassment.

Dharun was charged on 15 counts, including bias intimidation and witness tampering, for using a webcam to spy on his roommate Tyler Clementi having a sexual encounter with another man. Clementi committed suicide just days after.

After much public speculation and debate, Dharun has been sentenced to 30 days in jail, three years of probation, and 300 hours of community service. He was also ordered to receive counseling and to pay $10,000 to an organization which helps victims of bias crimes. The judge recommended that Dharun not be deported.

Dharun could have received up to 10 years in prison—but even the prosecution, Tyler’s parents, and the man, known as M.B., who Tyler was with on the webcam, didn’t think that would help.

Surely whatever sentence Dharun received is likely to be unsatisfying to Tyler’s family and friends. Dharun was not able to apologize to Tyler. He couldn’t promise Tyler that he would never do such a cruel thing again. He didn’t have that opportunity because Tyler killed himself after the incident.

But Dharun should be expected to apologize for his actions more broadly. He should be expected to do more than contribute money to an organization that helps victims of bias crimes. If his community service is to be meaningful, he should do what he can to help prevent others from doing what he did to Tyler.

Dharun, like Tyler, came from schools where students are called gay everyday—if they are too good at academics, too bad at sports, too skinny, too chubby, or too kind to girls. In most of our school cultures boys are expected to demonstrate their manhood by bragging about their sexual exploits with girls and/or by using violence against anyone who threatens their reputation—especially by associating them with homosexuality.

If this kind of environment, this bully society, is allowed to persist in schools, we will surely see more cyber-bullying and school building bullying of the kind Tyler experienced. Dharun should do as much as he can to stem this tide.

On Fox 5 this morning, Greg Kelly asked me: Isn’t Ravi too immature to be a leader, to help build the kind of community you are talking about?

My answer is no. Dharun could and should be held accountable for his actions by being expected to teach other students how important it is to respect others. Instead of just locking another bully in prison for any amount of time, or suspending another one from school, Dharun should be expected to help change the culture that created him—that led him to be so hurtful and heterosexist towards Tyler.

It wasn’t just Dharun that was at fault in this crime—but our society too that allows gay-bashing in schools to exist as a normal part of our students’ everyday lives. Students with school faculty, parents, and members of their larger community can make a difference—by calling meetings, by supporting students no matter how they express their gender and sexuality, and by making it normal and expected for kids to support one another. Dharun should help lead this transformation.

I know that bully societies can be transformed into compassionate communities—and I know that students you would never expect to make a difference can be powerful and effective leaders if they are given the opportunity to take responsibility for making a difference.

I know this can happen—not just because I’ve done the research—but because I’ve been on school faculty that helped create it. I’ve seen students who were homeless, who were sexually and otherwise abused, and from violent families, drug-ridden neighborhoods, and from gangs, become phenomenal leaders in creating change in their schools.

Dharun came from an intact family. He was attending a fine university and he is considered smart and capable. He should be expected to use his privilege, his education, and his abilities to help change schools so that it is less likely another youth will be bullied—and called gay in a pejorative way—whether they are identified as homosexual or not.

This is the kind of community service Dharun is capable of doing and should be expected to lead. Anything unrelated to changing the bully society in our schools is otherwise a waste of everyone’s time—and does little to make Dharun accountable for his actions.
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updated: 5 years ago

Factual Errors April 28, 2012 New York Times Book Review: The Bully Society (Long version)

In his review of my book The Bully Society in the Sunday, April 28, 2012, New York Times Book Review, David Cullen agrees with me that a “hyper-masculine imperative haunts many boys and drives some to violence.” In fact, Cullen and I agree on more than he recognizes. However, his review of my book requires some corrections and clarifications.
Contrary to Cullen’s suggestion, bullying and mental illness are not mutually exclusive explanations of the2007 Virginia Tech attack. The evidence suggests that Seung-Hui Cho was both bullied and mentally ill. My concern is that mental illness is often used to discount the impact of bullying on shooters as well as other students.
Similarly, the fact that shooters struggled with bullying and oppressive social hierarchies does not conflict with the concept of loss--of status or of romantic relationships--noted in the FBI study Cullen cites. My book explicitly links these social hierarchies to such losses, though Cullen implies otherwise. Shooters attacked girls who rejected them, and they attacked boys who threatened their status. My findings are comparable to the data Cullen cites; the numbers differ because I tracked shootings from 1979 to 2011 (the FBI’s data was released in 2004). The Bully Society references my data which is accessible on my website (jessieklein.com).
Cullen, who is a journalist, uses his critique to accuse social science, somewhat ironically, of over-reliance on popular media. But the research in The Bully Society relies on multiple methodologies—including content analysis, statistical research, participant observation ethnography, and extensive interviews with students, parents, and school faculty. Together, the evidence is overwhelming that gay bashing and other forms of bullying contribute to school shootings as well as to depression, anxiety, and social isolation. More recently, and escalating since the 2004 FBI report, perpetrators have also attacked administrators and teachers who punished or failed them.
Finally, Cullen accuses me of referencing Eric Harris’ “suicide note” which he says was discredited after the Columbine massacre; and he further suggests that my evidence is “flimsy” when I quote one of the Columbine athletes who called Harris and Klebold “gay” because Cullen writes: “he didn’t even know the killers.”
I have yet to see conclusive evidence that the comments attributed to Harris constituted a “hoax;” but regardless of the credibility of that particular note, it is not essential to the overall findings in the book. In Harris’ other writing, which Cullen believes is more reliable, Harris despairs at being left out of so much at his school—a classic form of bullying; Cullen oddly minimizes this when he acknowledges Harris’ complaint, but insists that Harris was not bullied; Many other shooters wrote similar notes blaming adults for doing nothing or for encouraging bullying behaviors. The disputed note does not detract from the flood of evidence regarding Harris and Klebold’s social exclusion, the tendency for out-casted boys to be teased and called gay, or the detrimental role adults often play in school bullying.
Further, any student across the country can tell you that those who call others “gay” rarely know their targets. Cullen’s belief that not knowing a particular target casts doubt on the extent to which they were called gay is particularly curious. That boys, especially those who are less typically masculine, get called “gay” every day, often by those who have never spoken to them in any other way, is cited in a flood of research documented in The Bully Society.
My research shows that we can’t predict who will pick up guns, who will commit suicide, and who will abuse substances or cut themselves; but we can identify and address likely contributing factors.  Seeking out and punishing each culprit is unlikely to change school environments that breed violence. We must transform school cultures so that students learn how to support one another. I know how powerful this transformation can be because I’ve helped create it over the decades that I’ve worked in schools.
Jessie Klein, PHD, MSW, M.Ed.
Assistant Professor
Sociology/Criminal Justice

updated: 5 years ago