CAMPUS OUTCASTS PAY PRICE; IN WAKE OF COLORADO SHOOTINGS, LIFE GETS HARDER.
It has always been hard to be the one called a freak, geek, dweeb, weirdo.
For many, it just got a little harder.
In scattered reports from around the country, high school students who dress defiantly, or who are computer lovers, or who qualify in any way as outcasts, say that since the killings in Littleton, Colo., last week, they feel as if they have become perceived not only as different but as threats.
In Brookline, Mass., Tom DeRocco, a high school sophomore wearing a heavy chain around his neck bearing a lock engraved with the word ``Macho,'' a black T-shirt depicting the punk band Exploited and thick-soled shoes, said that since the massacre, random people on the street have called him names and asked, ``Going to blow up your school?''
In a Los Angeles suburb, David Yarovesky, a Calabasas High School senior who wears black nail polish and has a pierced eyebrow, tongue, ears and nipples, said that his mother had been fairly understanding about his Gothic style. But since the two Columbine High School gunmen struck, killing 12 students, a teacher and themselves, Yarovesky's mother has worriedly asked, ``What's the difference between you and them?''
In a small town in South Florida, a dozen high school students who periodically link their computers to play games and exchange information said they had been hauled in by school authorities to be questioned in front of a school police officer about their group, which calls itself Evilcon. The students said their Web site had been downloaded and inspected, all because a fellow student had told her parents she was afraid of the computer nerds.
An Internet magnet for complaints of outsider misery and harassment has emerged in the person of Jon Katz, media critic for Rolling Stone and the Slashdot Web site, whose recent online columns sympathizing with high school nonconformists have brought an outpouring of thousands of e-mail messages, what he calls a ``river of pain.''
Many teen-agers were already subjected to daily harassment, Katz said in a telephone interview, ``and since the Littleton massacre, these kids perceive this national witch hunt for the abnormal, where kids are basically being singled out if they're wearing trench coats, if they're called Goths, if they're on the Internet, if they play Quake and Doom. These kids who already felt like outsiders are being made to feel like killers as well.''
The messages pouring in to Katz have included reports of students being expelled or suspended from school for ``anti-social'' behavior or sent home to change clothes similar to what the killers wore; of clampdowns by parents on computer use; of increased scrutiny and determined offers of counseling from adults, especially when students say that though they do not condone the shootings, they can understand what motivated them, and of more hostility from other students.
These descriptions of added ostracism contrast sharply with the message many teachers and administrators sent after the shootings: that the deaths might have been prevented if only peers and adults had granted the two killers more acceptance.
The gunmen, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, have been described as consummate outsiders, derided by more popular students, and diary entries describe the rage brought on by rejection.
They also were known to play riveting computer games like Quake for hours; to listen to techno-pop music; to wear all-black ensembles associated with the gloomy subculture known as Goth, and to have ties to the school's little anti-clique known as the trench coat mafia.
So, suddenly - and despite overwhelming odds that the vast majority of ``outsider'' teen-agers will never hurt anybody - any resemblance to that profile can put a teen-ager under suspicion.
The sense of that suspicion is already spawning jokes among some teen-agers. At Brookline High School, Ben Pulli, a junior, said he was recently sitting off by himself when a friend came up and joked, ``Uh-oh, you're showing warning signs.'' Another student mentioned warning somebody, ``Don't make me go trench-coat on you.''
And Thomas Fluckiger, a senior who wears his hair in dreadlocks and heads the school's Strategic Games Club, whose members tend to dress in black and be self-described outcasts, sounded as if the extra attention the group had been getting from the headmaster was more a source of amusement than concern: ``It's just like, `Oh, hello, how's it going?' Smile smile, nod, nod, and he's looking, `Do any of these people look homicidal today?' ''
But judging by reports reaching Katz and others, outsiders' sense of unease about ``geek profiling'' often reaches serious proportions. Katz has received handfuls of messages from students who have been told to take off black clothes or computer-game T-shirts or trench coats, he said; a half-dozen from students called into counseling because they spoke angrily, and three or four from students who were sent home for it.
``The biggest number have been kids who were spoken to because of the way they dress or look,'' Katz said.
In the '60s, that rebellious look would have meant long hair and peace signs; in the late 1990s, it is the macabre Goth look, which often includes white makeup or black lipstick; or the punk look of heavy shoes, metal chains and leather; or the tribal look of piercings and colorful makeup and hair, or a dozen other variations that stand out in part because they are meant to.
Years of torment
But some teen-agers in less tolerant places comment that freakhood is often the product of natural differences that have brought years of torment by cruel children.
Of his Goth crowd in Calabasas, Yarovesky said, ``We all looked the same in kindergarten. Not Goth, but we were all made fun of. As we started to get older, we started materializing into what they were saying to us. We made ourselves come off as different. The group of friends that always got made fun of became the Goth group, the outcasts.''
Yarovesky, like many self-described high school outcasts, said he sympathized with the Colorado gunmen but did not support them.
``I feel that it had to happen,'' Yarovesky said. ``Someone had to notice that something is wrong at school.'' Now, he said, he hopes that ``people will ease up on the dorks.''
Perhaps some will. At Bethesda Chevy Chase High School in suburban Bethesda, Md., Jonathan Hare, a baseball-capped junior, said between lunch bites at McDonald's: ``You don't know who to mess with now. I'm being friends with everybody.''
PHOTO (Color) David Yarovesky, a Calabasas High School senior and self-described ``Goth,'' sits in his room.
Monica Almeida/The New York Times
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||May 2, 1999|
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