Book Excerpt: Shame Nation

By Sue Scheff with Melissa Schorr; Foreword by Monica Lewinskly

Chapter 9

Rebounding with Purpose

Many have turned their shaming into something we can all celebrate. Each one of these survivors is making a difference in lives today and teaching others from their experiences. Some have changed laws nationwide; others are cultivating kindness on campus. Let’s take a look at these exceptional stories of triumph.

Tyler Clementi Foundation

“We must stop this epidemic of cruelty, bullying, and humiliation! We need to do a better job at creating safe, respectful, and kind environments for our youth.”

—Jane Clementi

The Tyler Clementi Foundation was formed shortly after the death of college student Tyler Clementi. Although tragedies can bring positive outcomes, there will always be the emptiness of where Tyler could be today.

Tyler, at the age of eighteen, was a victim of the worst type of invasion of privacy, cyberharassment, and digital humiliation. In August 2010, Tyler started his freshman year at Rutgers University, excited about having the freedom to live openly as a gay man, as well as playing his violin at a high level of expertise at the university. Sadly, this all came to a screeching halt just weeks after school started.

One evening, Tyler asked his roommate, Dharun Ravi, for some privacy, because he had a date. Ravi agreed, but what happened next was horrific. Ravi secretly recorded Tyler and his date on his webcam and invited others to view it online. No one stopped this invasion of privacy. By the time Tyler discovered what had happened, it had already gone viral on Ravi’s Twitter feed, and Tyler was the topic of ridicule and cyberhumiliation. He also found out that Ravi was planning to do it again. It was simply too much. Tyler decided to end his life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge a few days later.

To honor Tyler, his parents, Jane and Joe, organized the Tyler Clementi Foundation, a New York City–based nonprofit dedicated to fighting cyberbullying and helping countless youths, adults, educators, and communities understand the importance of being an “Upstander” who pledges to stand up in the face of online shaming. “We assume everyone knows what respect is, but people just don’t,” says the former executive director of the Tyler Clementi Foundation Sean Kosofsky. The chancellor of Rutgers recently read the foundation’s Upstander Pledge to all five thousand incoming freshmen, and the pledge has been taken by members of groups from the Peace Corps to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Kosofsky explains that the foundation’s #Day1 campaign encourages witnesses of online or off-line bullying to do three things:

Interrupt. “It is a highly unnatural act—we ask people to be courageous. Train your kids to do it.”

Report it. “We have to undo this mentality that you’re tattling. It’s not tattling if you’re saving someone’s life.”

Reach out. “If you see someone being attacked and treated horribly, tell them, ‘You should have not been treated that way.’ It is so vital to get that lifeline.”

Sadly, after Ravi was convicted under a New Jersey statute against antibias crime, he served only twenty days of a thirty-day sentence, and that conviction was overturned. He ultimately pleaded guilty in 2016 to attempted invasion of privacy, and was sentenced to time served. The Clementis responded with a statement calling again for respect: “We call on all young people and parents to think about their behavior and not be bystanders to bullying, harassment, or humiliation. Interrupt it, report it, and reach out to victims to offer support. If this had happened in Tyler’s case, our lives might be very different today.”

The Tyler Clementi Foundation continues to work harder than ever to provide support and effect change. In addition to offering school and workplace presentations, Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz led the creation of an original choral composition, “Tyler’s Suite,” which has toured nationally and performed at the Lincoln Center. The foundation has also proposed the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-harassment Act to Congress, which would require colleges and universities nationwide to put campus policies in place that would protect students from harassment or cyberbullying, based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion.