Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tyler Clementi Anti-Harassment & Bullying Act Reintroduced in Senate

Kris Sharp with U. S. Senator Patty Murray
Photo courtesy of Kathryn Robertson
By Brody Levesque | WASHINGTON --  U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) reintroduced legislation Thursday that is aimed at curbing harassment and bullying at colleges at universities across the nation.
The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2014 requires colleges and universities to prohibit harassment and establishes within the Department of Education a grant program to support campus anti-harassment programs.
The legislation was first introduced by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg after Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, took his own life after his roommate and another student invaded his privacy and harassed him over the Internet in September of 2010 .
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the measure while speaking on the Senate floor Thursday morning and shared the intensely personal story of her intern, Kristopher Sharp. Sharp had been the target of extensive bullying and harassment because of his status as an HIV-positive gay man while running for a student government office at the University of Houston-Downtown a year ago.
“Despite statistics telling us LGBT students are nearly twice as likely to be harassed, there is no federal requirement that colleges and universities have policies in place to protect their students,” said Senator Murray. “Kris told me, ‘For most young people, when things like that happen we have got to have people who are going to be proactive in helping them. And not someone telling them there’s nothing we can do to help you."
James Clementi, whose brother Tyler the measure is named for, told LGBTQ Nation Thursday,
"I'm very grateful for Senator Murray and her office for pushing this important legislation in the Senate. I think that this will ensure a safe place for learning for college students across the United States in the name of diversity and inclusion. I'd also like to thank Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-NY) for her leadership in co-sponsoring this bill along with her fellow Senators for seeing how important this issue really is."
According to a 2004 study by Rowan University, 27.5 percent of college students indicated they had seen students being bullied by other students.  LGBT students are nearly twice as likely as their peers to experience harassment, and are far more likely to indicate the harassment was based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sharp told LGBTQ Nation that he is deeply honoured by Murray's commitment to making sure that colleges and universities are safe for all students by especially LGBTQ students like himself. 
The legislation:
  • Requires colleges and universities receiving federal aid to establish an anti-harassment policy prohibiting the harassment of enrolled students based on their actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion.
  • Requires colleges to distribute their anti-harassment policy to all students and employees, including prospective students and employees, upon request.
  • Recognizes “cyberbullying,” which includes harassment undertaken through electronic messaging services, commercial mobile services, and other electronic communications. 
  • Authorizes a competitive grant program for institutions of higher education to initiate, expand, or improve programs to: (a) prevent the harassment of students; (b) provide counseling or redress services to students who have been harassed or accused of subjecting other students to harassment; and (c) train students, faculty, or staff to prevent harassment or address harassment if it occurs.

The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Al Franken (D-MN), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).