Message from Rutgers Dean McCormick

October 3, 2010

The Rutgers University community is mourning the death of first-year student Tyler Clementi. We grieve for him and for his family, friends, and classmates as they deal with the tragic loss of a gifted young man who was a strong student and a highly accomplished musician. Our community is preparing to hold a candlelight vigil on Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m. at Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus. This silent vigil will be an opportunity to come together in this difficult time to reaffirm our commitment to the values of civility, dignity, compassion, and respect for one another.

Rutgers has a strong history of social activism on behalf of diversity. It was here in 1969 that the second gay college student organization in the country was founded. In that same era, student protests led to expanded opportunities for students of color at Rutgers. In the 1980s, our students spoke out forcefully and effectively against apartheid. We also have a proud legacy of world renowned research on women and the preparation of women for leadership.

By its history Rutgers University is thus committed to the moral imperative of an open and egalitarian community. That work continues today. Last year Rutgers opened an LGBT resource center and established our first LGBT scholarship fund for undergraduate students. And while we are working toward the creation of additional safe spaces in response to student concerns, we must make every space at Rutgers safe. Accordingly, I pledge that we will work even more closely with our student leaders to make certain that our campuses are places where students of all races, faiths, cultures, and orientations feel accepted and respected.

Let me also urge your participation in Project Civility (projectcivility.rutgers.edu), a two-year conversation on our New Brunswick campus about the meaning of respect and how we treat each other. The critically important issues of personal privacy and the responsible uses of technology, which have been brought into sharp focus this week, are among the timely topics that Project Civility will examine.

Rutgers is an imperfect institution in an imperfect society, but we are always striving to find better ways to make every student feel comfortable and fully empowered. We have the opportunity and the obligation to be a model for universities across the country. Let us work together to make that happen.

I’m going to have to go through my syllabus and again and do a little unit on LGBTQ literature. I think it’s one way to move forward. We’ve already worked on a unit on the Iraq war and Muslim narratives in the wake of all the hysteria of the past few months. After reading those works, I’ve found my students demonstrated more empathy towards their Muslim and military brethren, and hopefully, after this, they’ll do the same towards their LGBTQ counterparts. This isn’t to say that my students aren’t already accepting human beings but the way I see it, if it helps them be more active in seeing other people’s humanities, we’re all better off.

I think Project Civility is an extremely worthwhile effort. You should check it out. I’m extremely proud to be part in some small way of Rutgers’ mission.
Dan Savage’s It gets Better project is another extremely important effort. In the wake of all these incidents of bullying and bigotry and hurt, it’s important that kids realize that they aren’t alone and that it gets better. The It gets Better project is basically all sorts of people talking to queer youth and telling them to hold on. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to grow up queer but it’s so important that these kids don’t feel that they don’t deserve to exist as they are. Even if you aren’t queer, you should watch those videos. We’re imperfect but we’re getting better. I swear.

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