Senator introduces legislation that would require universities to adopt cyberbullying policies to be eligible for financial aid programs

cyber-bullying-billWhen Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge in 2010, the events leading to his death were a painful reminder that cyberbullying is not confined to middle schools.

Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, had used a webcam to film the freshman kissing another male student, and then invited his Twitter followers to join him for a second viewing. Clementi complained to Rutgers officials about the incident, but committed suicide a day later.

Now, two U.S. senators are co-sponsoring a bill named in Clementi’s honor that would require colleges and universities to recognize cyberbullying in its anti-harassment policies.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wa., will introduce the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act in the Senate this week. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wi., will co-sponsor the bill, said her press secretary, Leah Hunter.

The bill will amend the Higher Education Act to require colleges and universities to include policy statements about harassment, including cyberbullying, in their annual security reports in order to be eligible for federal student financial aid programs. 

Clementi was not Murray’s only inspiration for the bill. An intern in her office, Kristopher Sharp, was harassed when he was a student at the University of Houston. While Sharp was running for a student government office, homophobic flyers were distributed around campus warning students not to vote for him.

“Want AIDS?” a flyer asked. Sharp has been diagnosed with HIV.

“The university told Kris that the flyers were protected under free speech,” Murray said. “You don’t often think about this happening, but when Kris walked me through his experience, it was clear to me that this could happen to anyone.”


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