Regular readers of my blog may have noticed that I’ve been awol this past week, but in case anyone was worried (yes, I am flattering myself in assuming I have a devoted following!), all has been well. A week ago, I moved into a new home, and the last few days have been a flurry of unpacking, address-changing, cat-accomodating, and other surprisingly time-consuming aspects of getting set up in a new location. But I haven’t been entirely in a bubble of my own making. I’ve been thinking a great deal this week about something that’s been on a lot of our minds.
This last week was a particularly distressing one; on the heels of 13-year old Seth Walsh’s suicide, Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi also took his own life. Both boys had been taunted and harassed about their sexual orientation, and chose the most drastic option for ending their pain.
Maybe it’s because Clementi was around the same age as my promising senior students, or because I remember my own early days of college as being wonderfully transformational. It might be because one of my college classmates, a respected member of our campus’s arts community, took his own life in his junior year. Whatever the reason, Clementi’s death got my attention. His death, like Walsh’s, was entirely preventable. At about every point along his path to suicide, someone could have reached out to this young man. Maybe if the university had honored his request for a room change and helped him escape a cruel, homophobic roommate, he might be here today. Maybe if an older gay man who’d been through similar bullying had been able to tell Clementi that life would get better, he would have been emotionally fortified. Maybe if he’d been made aware of resources for gay youth, he could have found community, assistance, and empowerment.
The deaths of these young men are an alarm call to adults. Even those of us who aren’t parents have young people in our lives, and we have the responsibility to help them. All too often we assume a kid’s or a teen’s emotional distress is petty, easily gotten-over, or irrelevant. But last week’s events tell us that what kids are going through is very real indeed. It’s time for adults to quit talking to one another about how important our kids are, and start talking to them.
This week, I’m making the commitment to have discussions with my students. Not only do I want them to think about the consequences their actions can have on others, but I want to tell them that, however dark a place they may find themselves, life does get better. And I want to help.
Please check out Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, and share it any LGBT or bullied kids in your life who might need the encouragement. You might just save a life.