Cyberbullying bill would tie harassment policies to aid

An earlier version of the bill stalled in the House of Representatives last year. Some organizations, including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), criticized that bill as being too vague and redundant.

“While outlawing ‘cyberbullying’ may make for a good soundbite on the evening news, the legislation ignores the fact that the behavior we’re apparently now calling ‘cyberbullying’ is already prohibited by colleges and universities across the country; it’s just referred to as discriminatory harassment, intimidation, true threats, or other behavior that is unprotected or illegal,” wrote Will Creeley, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy.

Many colleges and universities do already have harassment policies in place but that isn’t quite good enough, Murray said. Her bill would make sure that every institution receiving federal student financial aid is covered.

Like previous attempts to tie aid with harassment policies, the bill may be a tough sell.

“It’s going to take a lot of work,” Murray said. “But people need to understand that it’s the right thing to do.”

Nearly 30 percent of students in a 2013 survey said they had witnessed cyberbullying occur at their university, with the majority of the harassment happening on Facebook and Twitter, and through eMail.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Minnesota surveyed 276 students at an unnamed Midwestern university, which added cyberbullying language into its student code while the study was taking place.

More than 20 percent of the respondents said they were uncomfortable reporting cyberbullying to campus officials.

The reluctance makes it difficult for institutions to get a handle on cyberbullying as officials may not know it’s taking place. To get ahead of the issue, some universities, like the University of Virginia, have adopted policies that allow keyword searches of student eMails.

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