Tyler Clementi's Suicide Prompts Rutgers to Offer Gender Neutral Housing

Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge in September 2010.

March 1, 2011, 12:36 PM

March 1, 2011 — -- In reaction to the suicide of a gay student earlier this year, Rutgers University has decided to let students choose the gender of their dorm mates, giving male and female students the option of living together.

The school also said it will not allow parents to veto their children's choices.

Rutgers, which is located in New Brunswick, N.J., will launch the pilot program this fall, giving many of its more than 42,000 undergraduate students the option to decide whether they would like to live with a male or a female student.

The policy is believed to have been born out of the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge during the first weeks of school after he was allegedly filmed during a "sexual encounter" with another man by his roommate who later posted the footage online.

Clementi's death sparked a nationwide debate over the bullying of gay youth.

"This has been under discussion for a long time. Many other universities around the country already have gender neutral housing," said a statement from the university.

"In the aftermath of the Clementi tragedy, members of the university's LGBTQ community told the administration that gender neutral housing would help create an even more inclusive environment. Since then, the university has been exploring this in greater detail," said the statement.

Joan Carbone, the university's executive director of residence life, told New Jersey's Star-Ledger that students will not be asked about their sexual orientation and will choose rooms just as they always have - through a schoolwide lottery system.

The only difference will be that students will be able to name a roommate of either sex on the application. Additionally, students' parents will not be allowed to veto students' request, Carbone told the newspaper. First-year students will only be able to request a roommate who is "supportive" of their sexual preference, according to the paper.

Rutgers joins a handful of universities across the nation that offer gender-neutral housing, according to The National Student Genderblind Campaign, a non-profit organization that advocates for students.

Among those schools that offer such housing are Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., Ohio University and the University of Michigan. The University of Arizona is also considering a pilot program, according to the organization.

Rachel Soltis, a junior at Rutgers, told ABC News that the campus response to the new policy seems overwhelmingly positive.

"It's a good thing that people can now be themselves," said Soltis. "Times are changing."

"I think that there are a lot of students who will appreciate having the option [to choose the gender of their roommate]," she said.

Suicide Prompts Rutgers to Allow Coed Dorm Mates

Questions arose after Clementi's suicide as to whether the freshman had requested a room reassignment from the university.

The New Jersey university was subpoenaed by the Middlesex County prosecutor's office for e-mails exchanged between the institution and Clementi which may shed light on whether Clementi had requested a room change prior to the videotaping incident that was a precursor to his suicide, officials told ABC News last fall.

A user on a gay website believed to be Clementi mentioned on an online message board that he had requested a new roommate after being spied on with a video camera by his college roommate.

Two students, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, have been charged with invasion of privacy for allegedly streaming Clementi's sexual encounter with another man.

Messages on social networking sites left by Ravi suggest that he may have had an aversion to Clementi's sexuality from the start of their freshman year.

Ravi tweeted on Aug. 22, "Found out my roommate is gay," according to Forbes.com, and then posted a link to a gay men's website where Ravi said Clementi had placed posts.

Gawker reported it was that same website, JustUsBoys, that Clementi was believed to have turned to once he found out that Ravi had secretly filmed Clementi's sexual encounter with another man.

"So my question is what is next," the posted cti2mo, believed to be Clementi, wrote on Sept. 21. "I could just be more careful next time ... make sure to turn the cam away."

And then, in the same post, "I'm kind pissed at him (rightfully so I think, no?)"

A Twitter page that appears to have been operated by Ravi but has since been taken offline shows messages in which the accused student takes credit for the alleged videotaping of Clementi.

Ravi apparently tweeted about his roommate on Sept. 19 before live streaming Clementi's sexual encounter, writing, "Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into Molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."

And two days later, another message went out to Ravi's 148 Twitter followers: "Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it's happening again."

The next day, a chilling post from Clementi showed up on his Facebook page. He wrote in a message dated Sept. 22 at 8:42 p.m., "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry."

Clementi's parents released a statement following their son's death saying that they hope the tragedy will "serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human dignity."

"The outpouring of emotion and support from our friends, community and family -- and from people across the country -- has been humbling and deeply moving," said Joe and Jane Clementi in the statement issued by their lawyer. "We thank each of you from the bottom of our hearts."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events