Rutgers University is is attempting to dissolve the type of environment that led to one student's suicide last fall by allowing male and female students to share dorm rooms. Tyler Clementi jumped off the campus's George Washington Bridge after his sexual preference was made public by his roommate and another student who had surreptitiously filmed a private encounter between Clementi and another man. Rutgers officials say the school's LGBTQ community has been pushing for gender-neutral housing, and the president of the university's student assembly told CNN, "maybe the outcome would have been different if he had been able to choose his own roommate. At least now there's an option."
It's an interesting idea of a solution. Back in the fall of 2010, the discussion following Clementi's suicide focused heavily on the concept of "cyber-bullying" and whether or not new legal policies should be implemented to combat this trend. The Wire spotlighted several suggestions from prominent opinionators who urged the necessity of online etiquette, regulated social networking, and combating cyber-bullying with the same technology used to facilitate it--as in the YouTube It Get's Better Project. The New York Times' "Room for Debate" was also host to a variety of experts who offered ways for schools to discourage anti-social bullying and for people to protect themselves from such attacks in lieu of a judicial system equipt to handle them.
Based on the previous discussion, gender-neutral housing on Rutgers' and other university's campuses may not be the most intuitive solution to the atmosphere that facilitated Clementi's suicide, but it may be a start. "Of course, gender-neutral housing is only one step needed toward creating a safer, more welcoming environment," writes Good's Liz Dwyer. "Students still have to come out of their dorm rooms for class--meaning that without comprehensive anti-bullying policies on campus, violence and hate crimes against LGBTQ are sure to continue in one form or another." Steven Goldstein, head of the gay rights group Garden State Equality, told the New Jersey Star-Ledger, "Our experience is that students get bullied both by students of the same gender and the opposite gender, so integrated housing may be a step. But it’s not nearly enough and cannot substitute for more comprehensive anti-bullying policy."
ABC News decided to open the issue up for debate among its readers, asking if coed dorms at Rutgers are a sufficient response to Clementi's suicide. It's still early, but those who have responded don't seem convinced of the initiative's likely efficacy, writing, "dorms aren't private bedrooms like apartments, you share one room. If you have a problem with a roommate taping you clandestinely won't it be worse in a mixed gender dorm room?" Another: "sorry, but I don't see how this will prevent these horrible people from bullying."
The opinions continue to come in. The Rutgers experiment will certainly be closely watched. If it seems successful, of course, it's possible other colleges, also struggling with bullying, might copy the setup.