The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act: A Look at recent Anti-Bully Measures around the Country

Stephanie Rushford, Associate Editor

Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide in September

Two New Jersey lawmakers Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Rush Holt are proposing new legislature that would require federally funded universities and colleges to implement an anti-bully program in their respective schools. The Tyler Clementi High Education Anti-Harassment Act was named after the Rutgers freshman student who committed suicide in September after an online video was posted of him sharing an intimate encounter with another man. This proposed legislature would require colleges to adopt policies that prohibit the harassment of students on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender, race and other factors. In addition, the government would provide funding to these schools to establish anti-bullying programs or expand the ones that are in place. Furthermore, institutions would need to distribute these policies to students, and notify bullied students of counseling services. Senator Frank Lautenberg stressed the importance of anti-bullying legislature:

“The tragic impact of bullying on college campuses has damaged too many young adults, and it is time for our colleges to put policies on the books that would protect students from harassment. While there is no way to eliminate the cruelty that some students choose to inflict on their peers, there should be a clear code of conduct that prohibits harassment. It is vitally important that all students have the opportunity to learn in a safe and secure environment.”

While the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act would federally require universities and colleges nationwide to adopt anti-harassment policies, many states have recently passed similar laws. Over the summer, Governor Paterson of New York signed the Dignity for All Students Act into law. The law requires New York Schools to revise their code of conduct and establish anti-bully policies—which would include bullying related to sexual orientation—and organize school training programs on anti-bullying policies for school employees. Lastly, under the new law, schools would report any instances of bullying to the state education department. At the press conference, Governor Paterson explained the government’s role in preventing bullying at schools:

“Every student has the right to a safe and civil educational environment, but far too often young people are ruthlessly targeted by bullies. Bullying and harassment have disrupted the education of too many young people, and we in government have a responsibility to do our part to create learning environments that help our children prosper.”

Surprisingly, New York’s new anti-bullying law does not mention how schools should deal with cyber-bullying.  The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act includes language to cover harassment via the web, like in the case of Facebook, and electronic messaging, like in the form of a menacing email or text. This past August, the state of Missouri added language to its existing anti-bullying statue to included cyber bullying. Missouri is only one of 11 states that has anti-cyber-bullying laws in place, notably Arkansas’ anti-cyber-bullying legislature allows for school officials to intervene even if the cyber-bullying did not occur on school grounds.  In New Hampshire, their anti-bullying law covers cyber bullying and harassment related to sexual orientation or gender identity. Overall, although directed at primary and secondary schools, 45 states in the nation have some sort of anti-bullying law on the books. Recently, Senator Bob Casey introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act, much like the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti- Harassment Act, a law tha would require federally funded primary and secondary schools to “adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including conduct based on a student’s actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion.” Furthermore, this piece of legislature would compel states to compile data on the incidences of bullying their schools and report them to the Department of Education. Currently, this bill is in the Senate Committee, and most likely not reaches the floor of Congress before the Holiday Recess.



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