According to the Rutgers University Website, the new “Civility Project” launched Wednesday is a school-wide initiative that aims to “contribute to a stronger, more closely-knit university….celebrating diversity in all its forms.”
Unfortunately, Tyler Clementi will never have the opportunity to participate in this important dialogue.
In a story that has been widely reported, 18-year-old Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate allegedly secretly filmed and publicly broadcast a live feed of a “sexual encounter” between Clementi and a male partner. While the details of his death are still emerging, it appears that Clementi has become another tragic example of a teen who took his own life after harassment and bullying in schools.
Recent news has been riddled with more horrific examples. In September alone, two thirteen-year-olds, one in California and one in Texas, killed themselves after being repeatedly called “gay” by classmates. Two fifteen-year-olds, one in Minnesota and one in Indiana, suffered similar fates.
The old mantra of “boys will be boys” should have been dismissed decades ago. Today, school policies, standards and cultures may vary around the country, but Federal Law does not.
Under Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, schools have a responsibility to prevent and deter sex-based harassment, including when that harassment occurs against students for failing to conform to stereotyped ideas of masculinity or femininity. This means, for example, when boys are called offensive gender-based names or are bullied for “effeminate” behavior, such targeting for abuse based on their sex is prohibited under Title IX.
Unfortunately, too many schools, from elementary to post-secondary, fail to live up to their obligations. Recent research found that bullying affects nearly one in three American school children in grades six through ten.  The Girl Scout Research Institute reports that girls, in particular, are most concerned about their emotional safety.  Such widespread insecurity prevents students from focusing on learning and reaching their academic potential.
Adopting clear and actionable policies to combat bullying and harassment will help to provide students with a positive school climate in which they have the opportunity to thrive. Congress is currently considering two bills that would help address such pernicious harassment and abuse.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act, (S. 3739) and it’s House companion, (H.R.2262), provide funding for schools to implement anti-bullying policies to protect students from peer harassment, including that based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The Student Nondiscrimination Act of 2010, (H.R. 4530) and (S. 3390), prohibits discrimination against public school students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
These bills are part of a growing movement that will strengthen Title IX by helping to identify, prevent and remedy sex-based harassment, against all students. This approach puts safety first – which is good for students, good for schools and good for communities.
1 – National Safe Schools Partnership. (June 2007). Bridging the Gap in Federal Law: Promoting Safe School and Improved Student Achievement by Preventing Bullying and Harassment in our Schools. Retrieved March 9, 2010, from http://www.glsen.org/binary-data/GLSEN_ATTACHMENTS/file/000/000/912-1.pdf.
2 – Judy Schoenberg, Toija Riggins, and Kimberlee Salmond, Feeling Safe: What Girls Say, A Report from the Girl Scout Research Institute (New York, NY: Girl Scouts of the USA, 2003).