U.S. Democratic senators Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Patty Murray of Washington, and Democratic representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin re-introduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act on Wednesday. The proposed legislation would require colleges to create policies against harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or religion, and would make schools recognize “cyberbullying” as a form of harassment.
Under the bill, colleges would also have to create or expand programs that prevented harassment as well as provide counseling services to those experiencing harassment.
The legislation, first introduced in 2011, came at the anniversary Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi's death. Clementi died by suicide in 2010 after his college roommate and another student filmed him having a sexual encounter with another man and harassed him over it.
In 2019, the three lawmakers attempted to pass a version of the legislation.
“No student should live in fear of being who they are at school,” Baldwin, the first out person elected to the Senate said in a joint statement with Murray and Pocan, who is also out. “By reintroducing this legislation, we are taking a strong step forward in not only preventing harassment on campus, but also making sure our students have the freedom to learn and succeed in safe and healthy environments. Everyone at our colleges and universities deserves to pursue their dreams free of harassment and bullying.”
The release cited data that found LGBTQ+ college students are almost twice as likely to experience bullying and harassment than non-LGBTQ+ students. The lawmakers also pointed out that 65 percent of LGBTQ+ students said they felt more mental health challenges throughout the pandemic.
“Every student deserves to feel safe, full stop. But for too many students, campus bullying and harassment just devastates their mental, emotional, and physical health—in particular LGBTQIA+ students, who are nearly twice as likely to face this type of abuse. And this is all in the middle of a pandemic that has made mental health issues even worse,” Murray said. “Our legislation would require colleges to establish strong policies that ensure everyone—no matter who they are or who they love—can pursue higher education free from discrimination, harassment, or bullying. I’m proud to join my colleagues in honoring Tyler Clementi’s life by working to make sure what happened to Tyler, never happens to another student.”
After Clementi’s death, his parents began a nonprofit organization in honor of him called the Tyler Clementi Foundation. Clementi’s mother, Jane Clementi, said she fully supported the new legislation.
“We believe all institutions of higher education should have policies to keep all their students safe,” Jane Clementi said. “Because every student deserves a positive educational experience in a safe environment free of harassment, bullying or humiliation, where they can learn, study and thrive regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or whatever else makes them special and precious; and every parent should have peace of mind that their children will be protected and free of harm while in the school’s care."