PISCATAWAY, N.J. — During a dedication ceremony Monday of the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, (D-N.J.) announced that he and U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) have reintroduced legislation in Congress that would require colleges to implement anti-harassment policies.
The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act was first introduced shortly after Clementi jumped to his death in 2010 after his roommate used a webcam to record him in an intimate encounter with another man.
Holt told the audience — that included Tyler’s parents, Jane and Joseph Clementi, and brothers James and Brian — that the legislation would make grants available to help colleges find creative ways to battle bullying and help students in Clementi’s memory.
“There will be change. There already is and this will bring about even more,” Holt said.
If enacted, the legislation would require colleges and universities that receive federal student aid to have in place a policy that prohibits harassment of students based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
Schools would have to distribute that policy to all students, along with information about the procedure to follow should an incident of harassment occur, and notify students of counseling, mental health, and other services available to victims or perpetrators of harassment.
The legislation would also require schools to recognize cyber-bullying as a form of harassment, and would create a new grant program at the U.S. Department of Education to help colleges and universities establish programs to prevent harassment of students.
The proposed law has failed to garner enough support for passage over the past two Congressional sessions and, according to political analysts and a senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, most likely will not make it through the current GOP controlled House.
Joe Cohn, Legislative and Policy Director for the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending core constitutional rights on the nation’s college and university campuses, told LGBTQ Nation Tuesday that such legislation can be problematic.
“Policy makers and public university administrators have a moral and legal obligation to make sure that the definitions of harassment and bullying written into law and policy properly recognize both the need to provide safe learning environments for all and the need to comply with First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech,” Cohen said. “These two goals do not need to conflict.”
Cohn noted that many courts have already interpreted Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, to include a prohibition on harassment on the basis of the target’s non-conformance with gender stereotyping.