by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced legislation on March 27 aimed at curbing bullying and harassment at colleges and universities.
Called the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2014, the bill would require institutions of higher education to prohibit harassment, and would set up a Department of Education grant program to help support campus anti-bullying programs.
An earlier version of the bill was introduced by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) 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.
Murray said she was motivated to reintroduce the measure after hearing that one of her interns, Kristopher Sharp, had been harassed, and had his medical records published by his harassers in a college incident last year.
Sharp was running for a student government position when he was summoned to the dean's office and shown flyers that had been distributed across campus.
The front showed a picture of Sharp, who is openly Gay, with an X over it and the text: 'Want AIDS? Don't support the Isaac and Kris homosexual agenda.' The back of the flyer showed Sharp's real medical records that confirmed he was HIV-positive.
The dean told Sharp nothing could be done, and refused to investigate or take any disciplinary action. Sharp described the incident as 'devastating.'
'The injustice of the fact that somebody can put his HIV status on a flyer, distribute it, violate his privacy, and [the dean says] there's nothing I can do about it, is just horrendous,' Murray told the Huffington Post.
'His story is so compelling, and it is so real that it's just made it real for me,' she said. 'This isn't just something that could happen, this is something that does happen.'
'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,' Murray elaborated in a press statement.
'Thankfully, this bill gets to the heart of this issue by ensuring students and schools alike have the tools and resources necessary to not only prevent this epidemic of harassment, but assist victims who are too often left with no sense of closure or recourse for their perpetrators. I am extremely grateful for the work my friend Frank [Lautenberg] did to honor Tyler Clementi's life with this legislation and I am proud to be joined in this effort by Senator Baldwin. No student - whether they're gay, straight, black, white, Christian, or Muslim - should have to face discrimination and harassment in their pursuit of education.'
'Everyone deserves a fair shot at our colleges and universities across America and this legislation will help ensure people can pursue their dreams free of harassment and bullying,' Baldwin added.
In addition to Murray and Baldwin, the bill is sponsored by Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gilibrand (D-NY), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Murray told Huffington Post that she hopes fellow senators from both parties will sign onto the bill. 'I think in this day and age, they ought to,' she said.
The bill has also received support from advocates and organizations including: American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, People For the American Way, and significantly from the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU).
The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2014:
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.
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