Dharun Ravi Is ‘Sorry’

The New Jersey Star-Ledger did an exclusive two-hour interview with Dharun Ravi and his family in their home in Plainsboro, New Jersey. They discussed the results of his case, his feelings about gay people, and how this whole experience has changed him. “I’m not the same person I was two years ago,” he told The Star-Ledger, “I don’t even recognize the person I was two years ago.” Ravi told The Star-Ledger that although he’s aware that he was an immature idiot expressing an extreme insensitivity to Tyler Clementi’s feelings and that he “wasn’t thinking” when he pulled that “prank” on Tyler, he insists that his actions were not rooted in homophobia. “I wasn’t biased. I didn’t act out of hate and I wasn’t uncomfortable with Tyler being gay.” Furthermore, Ravi is committed to “keep going” and fight to prove he didn’t commit a bias crime.

He says a desire to avoid the “bias crime” label is why he refused the plea bargain he was offered that would’ve guaranteed no jail time: “If I took the plea, I would have had to testify that I did what I did to intimidate Tyler and that would be a lie. I won’t ever get up there and tell the world I hated Tyler because he was gay, or tell the world I was trying to hurt or intimidate him because it’s not true.” At The Stranger last week, it was noted that the plea was chock-full of attached strings in other senses, too:

…the plea deal presented to Ravi was not “plead guilty, do 600 hours of community service, and go free.” The deal would have been more like “plead guilty, do 600 hours of community service, and then the prosecutors will put in a good word with ICE, but we can’t guarantee that ICE won’t revoke your green card and deport you.”

Ravi explained that West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North, which he attended, was a racially diverse environment and that “it’s hard to form hate when you grow up around so many different kinds of kids.” Not gay kids, however, though he claimed to have met “a gay kid I liked a lot at [Rutgers] orientation” and that “one of my friends had a gay roommate…they were no big deal. Now there’s a verdict out there that says I hate gays. The jury has decided they know what is going on in my mind; they can tell you what you think.”

It’s amusing that he’s still using the “I have gay friends” defense and that he actually thinks going to a racially diverse high school exempts him from being potentially biased towards gay people (or people of other races).  If anything, those ideas are indicative of a kid who still hasn’t thought very hard about any of this, choosing easy excuses over any genuine self-reckoning. He seems to ignore the possibilty that he was acting on “implicit bias,” defined in this article as “unconscious mental shortcuts that we form based on our life experience as well as the stories, culture and history we absorb around us.”

But I personally don’t think Ravi acted on conscious anti-gay bias. Some attempting to prove that he did return to the fact that Ravi had made some stupid remarks to a friend on g-chat about having a gay roommate. But honestly, I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t imagine a friend of mine — even a GAY friend of mine — describing somebody in private as “mad mad mad mad gay.” We say fucked up shit in private G-chats sometimes — remember, Tyler called Dharun’s family “sooooooo indian first-gen americanish” and remarked that “his ‘rents def own a dunkin.”

I’d also be lying if I said his fear that Tyler’s dates would become a regular thing, which he expresses in this interview, was unusual or biased either — it’s every college freshman’s worst nightmare that they’ll get a roommate who’s always kicking them out for sex.

Dharun Ravi is "goodyearsoles," his friend is "bigeaglefan75"

Ravi told The Ledger: “I’m very sorry about Tyler. I have parents and a little brother, and I can only try to imagine how they feel. But I want the Clementis to know I had no problem with their son. I didn’t hate Tyler and I knew he was okay with me. I wanted to talk to his parents, but I was afraid. I didn’t know what to say. At first, I actually thought I could be helpful because as far as I knew, I was the last one to see him alive.”

I personally felt from reading their texts/g-chats that the primary conflict between Tyler and Ravi wasn’t about sexual orientation, it was really just a conflict between an awkward introvert and an effortless extrovert, a conflict between somebody who felt uncomfortable in their skin and somebody who felt comfortable everywhere.

Ravi mentions this in the interview: “Before I went to school I thought my roommate would be my best friend and we would hang out all the time. I thought I could expand my circle of friends. But he (Tyler) wasn’t like that. He was very quiet and every conversation we had just hit a dead end…”

Furthermore, Ravi insists that “if it was a girl who came to the room and she looked as strange as M.B., I would have done the same thing.”

dharun & family, via the new jersey star-ledger

He also clings to the assertion that although he knew his friends would understand the “joke” ’cause they know his “sense of humor,” he did eventually change his mind about the broadcast and de-rigged the set-up, which he admitted he’d constructed in the first place partially just to impress his friends with his computer know-how.

“At that point, I got caught up in what I thought was funny, and my own ego.”

(Researchers find that “I thought it was funny” is the number-one reason used by boys to explain why they sexually harass women in University environments, although many researchers believe that it’s just an excuse and the real reason is related to power assertion.)

The Star-Ledger article also touches on the oft-buried fact that the video situation barely functioned to begin with, and ultimately just a handful of people caught more than a few seconds of blurry night-vision. It’s this issue that leads many to wonder — myself included — if this case would’ve seen the light of day if Tyler had simply switched rooms and moved on.

As I said last week, we’re being shortsighted as a community to overlook the depression and anxiety that led to Tyler’s suicide by burying that complicated reality underneath Ravi’s crime.

Although I feel it’s my duty to take the hard line here, I have to be honest and say that I don’t think Ravi deserves deportation or prison time. I’m troubled by Ravi’s actions being framed as The Cause of Tyler’s suicide. It’s not that simple. I think Ravi deserves ten years of community service working with LGBTQ teenagers and homeless LGBTQ teenagers especially. I think Ravi remains a selfish little shit who needs a long lesson on selflessness, and I’m troubled by what looks like a lack of significant remorse.

And I do wonder if Ravi would’ve done the same thing if his roommate had been straight or female. I want to say “no,” and legally that must be the answer — that he did what he did because Tyler was not a woman and was not a straight man but was a gay man.

But then I remembered what college is actually like — not even just the college I went to, but two nearby colleges where my friends and I sometimes hung out, both of which were far more hostile to women than the school I attended.

I remembered when the guy Lisa was dating filmed them having sex in the shower and when she broke it off with him, he showed the video to all his frat brothers and all of their friends, and their friends’ friends. Later, over beers and pizza and video games, the guys weighed in on Lisa’s weight, telling me how despite her pretty face, she had a really fat stomach and thighs, and did I want to see the video. I did not.

I remembered the guys who shaved some kind of design into Beth’s pubic hair, took photos of it and distributed it to everyone they knew, and how she was never treated the same after that, by anybody. She wasn’t my friend, but she lived in the same dorm I did, so I heard about it. I was asked if I wanted to see those pictures. I did not.

I remembered when it happened to me, too — although “remember” is a generous word for my recollection of the night it happened — and the only way I could fix it was to start dating a boy in the same fraternity as the people responsible for what happened to me, because due to the rules of “brotherhood,” my new boyfriend had the power to get those photos and videos destroyed. Nobody asked me if I wanted to see those pictures — but I did not. I prefer my black hole of memory to any triggering imagery.

I could go on.

All of these sexual situations could be framed, in legal terms, as entirely consensual — but never did I, Lisa or Beth consent to broadcast/distribution. The idea of pressing charges, to any of us, would’ve been preposterous. Somehow, as strange as it seems in retrospect, it was contextualized as part of life on campus, and fraternity culture especially. And I imagine if Tyler was still alive, he would’ve kept the situation quiet — people will go through great lengths to keep their sexual lives as private as possible. In fact, 10% or fewer of student sexual harassment victims attempt to report their experiences to a university employee.

This stuff happens all the time on college campuses. We know about the big stories from Duke and Yale but we don’t always know about the thousands of smaller incidents happening in universities all around the country.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, of course, and maybe it’s not a fair comparison. But really, is anybody surprised that Ravi thought filming his roommate’s sexual encounter would be interpreted as an innocent prank?  A recent study found 36% of teen girls and 39% of teen boys reporting that it’s common for privately distributed (via cell phone) nude or semi-nude photos to get shared with people other than the intended recipient.

Even the most extreme of campus sex-related crimes — sexual assault and rape — go un-condemned. The lax enforcement of Title IX in campus sexual assault cases is appalling, and a probe by The Center for Public Integrity found that “students found “responsible” for alleged sexual assaults on campuses often face little or no punishment, while their victims’ lives are frequently turned upside down.”

Let’s hope the next time a nervous college freshman discovers his or her private sexual encounters have been taped or otherwise broadcast for public perusal that he or she won’t have to die to make people care.

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Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1781 articles for us.

18 Comments

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    Tyler did not commit suicide because of Ravi. It may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, but he took his life because of his homosexuality in a straight world. His homelife, his parents are also responsible. Believe me, his mother and father know why he did it.

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    Riese, you always write so brilliantly, and this was another example of why I turn to this site for my primary source of news. Well done, again.

    And I agree with you – Ravi’s apology seems…insincere mainly because he doesn’t really understand what happened. To me, all this comes off as: “I’m sorry that Tyler killed himself after this happened” rather than “I’m sorry I participated in a humiliating bullying experience with someone who clearly had social anxiety”. I can’t imagine how he could justify his actions after he tried to befriend him. Really, Ravi? Tyler can’t hold a conversation with you, so you think filming his sex life is totally okay and funny? What a fucked up world we’ve created for college boys. It sickens me to no end.

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    Well done Riese, well done. You always impress me with how you manage to deal with such horrible issues in a sincere, honest way. I hadn’t thought about the case like this- I think you are right. My initial response was to hate Ravi, and while I still think his apology was half-hearted and that he’s a selfish fuck, I agree that community service might be a better punishment. Hopefully this case will reach all college students and show them that this behavior is never okay, regardless of the victim’s gender/sexuality.

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    Riese, this is regarding the treatment that Lisa, Beth and you received in college. Those individuals that did that to Lisa, Beth and you should have been expelled. The “it’s just the college atmosphere” defense has always been nonsense in my opinion. People don’t deserve passes based on it is just the way it is. This same kind of reasoning is why bullying pervades schools. We should never accept monstrous behavior. Boys will be boys or girls will be girls rationalizing does not cut it. It does no good for anyone. The scum in these situations should have been reported to the dean and to the police. Civil lawsuits should have also been filed.

    It is important that all young people are made aware that such behavior will not be coddled.

    I have not one ounce of empathy for Ravi. 7 to 10 years sounds about right.

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    This is really well done. Of course Ravi was motivated by homophobia – it’s pretty obvious from where I sit – but I believe that he honestly doesn’t believe that.

    “I met a gay guy once” is even worse than “I have gay friends.” And no matter where you went to high school, if you say you didn’t know anyone gay, there are only a few possibilities. Your school wasn’t a safe place to come out, or you talked to only a few people, or you consciously or unconsciously avoided the gay people. We’re 3-5% of the population and even though we’re not even distributed once we get to decide where we live, when we’re kids we don’t get to decide. If you had 20 kids in your high school, it’s pretty likely someone was L,G, B, or T.

    I agree that jailtime probably isn’t going to be helpful here, and I find it fascinating that Ravi doesn’t want anyone to think he’s anti-gay. Being labeled a bigot is apparently a bigger deal to him than anything else. I kind of hope more people feel that way. Let’s go ahead and make anti-anyone bigotry socially unacceptable.

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    I’ve been really uncomfortable with the people freaking out, saying Ravi should be deported, thrown in prison or worse. I think this piece nails it and it’s part of a bigger problem where schools don’t do enough to take care of their students and people don’t care/understand enough about spotting depression/mental illness. This case was really two problems colliding into one and I think a lot of people are missing the point, getting caught up in the collision and not the rest of it.

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    I went to a racially- and religiously-diverse high school and yeah, it didn’t keep people from being homophobic. It was a better environment when it came to gays than most neighboring high schools, in that gay and bisexual students were able to be out and date each other the way the heterosexual kids did (although I wasn’t out in high school, I was in denial), but there were still plenty of homophobic students there and some anti-LGBT bullying. Largely the reason it was better was just because the sort of ultra-conservative, fundamentalist Christian types who tend to violently hate gays also tend to violently hate non-Christian religions, so they’re not going to send their kids to a magnet school that’s known for its large numbers of Muslim and Hindu students. So we basically just managed to avoid the people who make the environment intolerable for gay students, but that didn’t mean that it was some magical pro-gay paradise where everyone was accepting. I could totally see someone like Ravi coming out of a school like mine.

    Also, there were a lot of people who were incredibly classist there, and loads and loads of privilege-denying-dude, entitled-asshole types. People definitely weren’t “prejudice-free” just because they generally didn’t care about race or religion.

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    “I think Ravi deserves ten years of community service working with LGBTQ teenagers and homeless LGBTQ teenagers especially. I think Ravi remains a selfish little shit who needs a long lesson on selflessness, and I’m troubled by what looks like a lack of significant remorse.”

    I agree with this.

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    There’s no “win” in this case..At the end of the day, there is just sadness at the tragic loss of a life..Everyone puts so much stock in this verdict, but I fear in the bigger picture nothing will change..I don’t believe Ravi thought what he was doing was that big a deal..Just as the next guy/girl who uses their power position will think what they are doing is really that big a deal..I’ve ben trying to recall if I’ve ever done anything to make someone feel small so that I could feel somehow “bigger”..I’m sure I have…I’m sure somewhere out there someone remembers how I laughed along with others at them..How perhaps when I could have done something, I chose to do nothing..Just as I remember when these things happened to me..None of us ever thinks we have the power to drive someone “over the edge”..But sometimes..Sometimes they are already so close that it wouldn’t take more than a dismissive look..Ravi went further than that..And he was tried and convicted for his crimes..But I wonder how many will remember this when they make a snarky comment..Or insult someone they feel is beneath them..Or laugh at their misfortune..Or any of the number of things I’ve witnessed everyday in the world, on the net, and yes, even here on AS (though ya’ll do a fine job of moderating)..This case has given me pause..So if any of you ever see me display such behavior..I implore you to call me on it..Because I’m going to do the same..

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    I was sexually harassed in high school. It was only last month that I actually recognized it for what it was. I was reading an article about sexual harassment in schools and thought to myself “I”m so lucky I’ve never been sexually harassed.” and then it hit me, I had been. When I was in high school, in 7th grade (1sr yr of high school), we had two boys in our grade that used to talk about sex and titties and sex sex sex 24/7 and one of them harassed me for about two weeks, making suggestive comments and requests.

    I don’t mean to sound corny, by from what it seems, Tyler was an introvert and a line from ‘The Princess Diaries’ comes to mind: “My goal is to be invisible. And I’m good at it.” I’m shy and awkward, and from what it seems, so was Tyler. I don’t have social anxiety like Tyler is reported to have had, but I do much prefer being alone than being around people. My girlfriend is the same, after a prolonged period of being around people, she just needs to be alone and with herself and her thoughts. It was really comforting for me because I was so afraid that when I started dating, they wouldn’t ‘get’ this about me and would think I was a loner and a loser. From the sounds of it, Tyler just liked to be left alone and loved to play the violin (and was very good at it). Apparently it is a trait of my star sign (Aquarius) that our alone time is extremely important to us.

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        Yeah, to me, as someone who has social anxiety (but clearly not as severe as Tyler’s likely was), that seems like more the cause of his suicide than the “outing” aspect. I probably wouldn’t have taken my own life over it, but I can imagine how something like that, if it had happened at the beginning of my freshman year would take a huge toll on my psyche *regardless* of whether the partner in question was male or female. I’m sure the fact that his mom had apparently not taken his coming-out very well added to his turmoil at the time, but I’m unsure if the fact that he was gay was the primary factor behind his decision to take his life so much as the fact that his sex life was being broadcasted for all to see. (Of course, probably part of it is that, at least with boys, it’s generally only “shamed” if it’s with another guy; having lots of sex with a girl is seen as a cause for celebration. With girls, we’d get slut-shamed either way.)

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