Anti-Harassment Bill Gets a Second Chance

Senators are renewing their efforts to pass an anti-harassment bill that would require universities that receive federal aid to establish anti-harassment policies that protect students from activities such as cyber bullying.

256px-Patty_Murray,_official_portrait,_113th_Congress

Photo courtesy of United States Senate/Wikimedia Commons

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., reintroduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which was originally proposed by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ. Tyler Clementi was a freshman at Rutgers University who committed suicide following Internet harassment by his roommate, who had video recorded Clementi’s sexual encounter with another man.

Murray harbors particularly adamant support for this bill after hearing the story of her intern, Kristopher Sharp, who was harassed for being gay and HIV-positive while running for the University of Houston-Downtown student government last year.

When offensive negative campaign ads about Sharp were distributed across campus, including a photo of his medical records confirming him as HIV-positive, the dean of the university claimed that he could do nothing about the situation.

“Kris was told that the university’s sole responsibility was just simply to inform him that this was going on,” Murray said in an address to Congress. “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.”

Sharp recalled that while the University of Houston-Downtown did promise to investigate the ads, it never discovered who was responsible. The relative inaction of the university left Sharp and other LGBT members of the university feeling unsupported.

While colleges do have policies to deal with harassment, there is no federal mandate that colleges must protect their students. Furthermore, there is no federal funding allotment for schools to create or improve anti-harassment programs.

Should the bill pass, colleges receiving federal aid would be required to distribute anti-harassment policies and forbid harassment of students “based on their actual or perceive race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion.”

In addition, the bill would enact a grant program that would award certain schools federal funds for three years to create or expand programs to prevent harassment, including training programs for students and university employees to address harassment, and counseling and support for victims.

Murray hopes that senators from both parties will sign onto this bill, stating, “in this day and age, they ought to.” Baldwin emphasized the importance of this act, commenting, “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.”

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