There are so many new facts in this New Yorker article about what led to Tyler Clementi‘s suicide that we’re still sorting through them. Much of it comes via instant-message communications released to the public record, which offer an intimate view into exactly what kind of person Clementi’s harasser, Dharun Ravi (right), is.
One wonders how heavily these facts will play into Ravi’s trial, which begins on February 21st. (Ravi rejected a plea deal of 600 hours of community service last month, preferring to face a jury. If sentenced, he faces a possibility of over five years in jail.)
Here’s some highlights that New Yorker reporter Ian Parker unravels:
*Ravi is the kind of kid who was athletic in high school, but not at the cool sports like football—he played for the Ultimate Frisbee team—so he boosted his confidence by taking down easy targets. He also used “DHARUNISAWESOME” as a computer password. (Really? Wow.)
*Ravi cyber-stalked Clementi before school even began, using the address Clementi had provided to Rutgers, firstname.lastname@example.org. While snooping, he found Yahoo forum messages by Clementi, as well as posts on a gay-porn site and a T-shirt-making site.
*When Ravi found Clementi was conversing openly on the forum part of gay-porn site Justusboys.com, he said to high-school friend Jason Tam in an AIM conversation: “FUCK MY LIFE/ He’s gay,” adding “wtf” seven times. He then posted a link to one of Clementi’s threads on his Twitter feed with the comment “found out my roommate is gay.”
*Clementi and Ravi lacked communication as roommates but secretly monitored each other online before they even met. Clementi had even seen the “gay roomie” tweet before the semester started.
Reading through the entire article, though, you get the impression Ravi was actually more classist than homophobic:
Once Ravi understood that he would be living with Clementi, he felt that he knew these essential facts: his roommate was gay, profoundly uncool, and not well off. If the first attribute presented both a complication and a happy chance to gossip, the second and third were perceived as failings. “I was fucking hoping for someone with a gmail but no,” Ravi wrote to Tam. Clementi’s Yahoo e-mail address symbolized a grim, dorky world, half seen, of fish tanks and violins. Ravi’s IMs about Tyler’s presumed poverty were far more blunt than those about sexual orientation. At one point during his exchanges with Tam that weekend, Ravi wrote, “Dude I hate poor people.”
And, like many bullies, Ravi seemed to mask low self-esteem by attacking others and bragging about imaginary accomplishments.
[Accomplice Molly Wei] said that [Ravi] claimed to have been the captain of an all-black basketball team that had won the state championship. And he told her that he was “on billboards all over India, and that he was famous in Canada for snowboarding.” She supposed that he was trying to impress her—and she “tried explaining to him that it would be better if he didn’t try to. But I think he was really adamant about it. He was, like, ‘No, this is who I am.’ ” Wei cut him off. During her senior year, Wei mentioned all this to Mark Lin, a mutual friend. Lin passed on what she had said, and, as Wei recalled to the police, Ravi “got really mad, because no one ever confronts him about this stuff.” She said that Ravi called her a “lying bitch” and a “whore.”
Ravi derided Clementi’s hook-up partner, “M.B.” as poor and therefore untrustworthy—underscoring his classist tendencies again.
Ravi thought that M.B. seemed “really shady.” [Molly Wei] went on, “He actually was kind of angry. He’s, like, ‘If he steals my iPad I’m going to make Tyler pay for it.’ And he’s, like, ‘Oh, and my roommate’s gay, like what if something else is going on?’ ” Speaking to the police, Ravi recalled M.B. as “slightly overweight,” with facial hair of some sort. Ravi’s reaction appears to have included some class prejudice: the man, apparently working-class, was a likely thief. He was “random,” as one of Molly Wei’s friends later put it—he was troublingly not of their world.
There’s also some interesting revelations about what happened right before Clementi headed to the George Washington Bridge to kill himself.
Ravi was in the room when, sometime after five o’clock, Clementi returned to Davidson C. This may have been the first time they had interacted since Sunday. Ravi later recalled Clementi “doing something by his desk.” That’s where police found the handwritten note, inside Clementi’s backpack. (The note’s contents have not yet been disclosed to the Clementi family.) Ravi and Clementi were there together for less than an hour. It’s not known if they talked—there is no electronic record.
What happened in those crucial minutes where they were together? Did they argue? Did Ravi put Clementi down? At this point, Clementi had reported the spying to Rutgers authorities and Ravi had been approached by a counselor who told him Clementi would be changing rooms.
Shortly before Clementi jumped, it appears Ravi tried to reach him to settle their differences, but it was too late.
Five minutes after Clementi posted [his farewell message] to Facebook, Ravi sent him a long text. (Ravi later said that he saw the Facebook posting only on the following day.) He told Clementi that, on Sunday night, he was showing Wei his webcam setup when he’d caught an accidental glimpse of Clementi, adding, “Obviously I told people what occurred so they could give me advice.” He said of Tuesday night, “I turned my camera away and put my computer to sleep so even if anyone tried it wouldn’t work. I wanted to make amends for sunday night. I’m sorry if you heard something distorted and disturbing but I assure you all my actions were good natured.”
Ten minutes later, Ravi wrote again, in a less weaselly way. This message is something that one wishes had been written three weeks before: “I’ve known you were gay and I have no problem with it. In fact one of my closest friends is gay and he and I have a very open relationship. I just suspected you were shy about it which is why I never broached the topic. I don’t want your freshman year to be ruined because of a petty misunderstanding, it’s adding to my guilt. You have a right to move if you wish but I don’t want you to feel pressured to without fully understanding the situation.”
Was Ravi’s “apology” sincere or a desperate attempt to cover his ass when he realized how distraught—even suicidal—Clementi was? Even the late February trial might not find the answer. But anyone who still thinks this was an innocent college prank gone awry will certainly have their eyes opened.