NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — In the days after his brother, Tyler, jumped from the George Washington Bridge to his death on Sept. 22, 2010, James Clementi could not have imagined getting through the next three hours, let alone the ensuing three years.
"It's strange for me to think how much time has gone by," Clementi said, recalling his life since Tyler took his fatal leap after discovering that his roommate had secretly recorded a video of him having an intimate encounter with another man and live-streamed it on the Internet. "In the early few days and the first six months to a year after Tyler passed away, I would say I was in a place where time had a different sense and everything really stopped. I just wasn't able to think about what the future was.
"And now it's different. The pain is still there; I think it will always be there. But now I'm able to really move forward from that time in my life and also use what I went through to help other people."
It is why Clementi, who said he initially felt bitter toward Rutgers University for not doing more to prevent his brother's death, is now helping the university move forward from the tragedy that made international headlines three years ago.
He works with Rutgers officials at the Tyler Clementi Center, which was created earlier this year with a mission to help students make the transition to college.
"It's five, six days a week, 10-hour days," he said. "It's a full-time job. It's very involving. But I really do think it makes a difference, and I'm glad to be a part of it."
Three years after his death, Tyler Clementi's legacy still lingers at Rutgers, as the struggles of gays and lesbians transitioning to college are routinely addressed at lectures, with Clementi cited as an example of what LGBT rights advocates said were the consequences of bullying.
Days before his death, the 18-year old Clementi discovered his roommate, Dharun Ravi, had directed a webcam on him during his intimate encounter in their dorm room and then used Twitter to publicly air it.
Ravi was tried and convicted of all 15 criminal counts with which he had been charged, including bias intimidation and invasion of privacy, and sentenced to a 30-day jail term in addition to fines and mandated community service.
Tyler Clementi Center
Three years have passed since Clementi's death, and in that time Rutgers officials have held several events tied to suicide prevention, bullying and misuse of social media.
"Really what we've been doing is attempting to make connections so that we can focus on the issues that surrounded Tyler's death," said Susan Furrer, executive director of the Center for Applied Psychology at Rutgers and co-director of the Tyler Clementi Center. "I would say that one of the key messages we try to instill is it's not about when things go wrong. We want to discuss and dig deeper into the times when things go right."
Located in a nondescript office in New Brunswick, N.J., the center is not about the bricks that surround it, officials say. A collaboration between Rutgers and The Tyler Clementi Foundation, the center says its mission is "to create and share knowledge about young people making the transition to college and coming of age in the digital era," according to its website, clementicenter.rutgers.edu.
Furrer said that while Tyler Clementi's death continues to impact the university community and draw attention to the issues of privacy, cyberbullying and gay-youth suicide, the center is not a cure-all for university-based suicide tragedies.
"Suicide prevention is really a public health issue," Furrer said. "It really takes everybody working together to try to build enough support. For people who are under so much distress that they're contemplating … or feeling vulnerable, we're trying to let them know there are other options."
She said the Tyler Clementi Center works closely with Rutgers' College Counseling Services to support initiatives where campus officials "reach out to people feeling vulnerable rather than waiting for them to ask for help.
"The center wants to facilitate those things, but it can't do it all," she added. "So it's really about building and fostering relationships so others can make it known where to get help. Can we add or focus on certain things to promote help-seeking behavior, decreasing isolation, and ultimately those things lead to an ability to better assist students who are in distress and then may do risky types of things like attempt to take their lives?
"I would love to be able to say, 'We will prevent suicide.' It is not possible to 100 percent do that. But we do know there are things that can be done to decrease that risk in folks who may be vulnerable."
In a recent interview to promote a suicide prevention hotline run by Rutgers University Behavioral HealthCare, James Clementi credited Rutgers with taking significant steps to prevent future students from experiencing the torment he believes his brother felt before his death.
"Rutgers actually has taken what happened to Tyler very seriously, and they've done a number of things," Clementi said. "One of the things that I think will go a long way towards helping young gay students like my brother is on Rutgers' roommate questionnaire, where they're actually matching up incoming freshmen with their roommates, they have a question now: 'Are you LBGT friendly?'
"It's not, are you gay, but are you comfortable with being around an LBGT person? In my brother's situation, there's no doubt in my mind that him and his roommate would've answered that question differently, and they wouldn't have been roommates in the first place."