Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has reintroduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which would require all colleges and universities that receive federal funds to explicitly recognize cyber-bullying as harassment as well as establish anti-harassment policies.

The new legislation would require Georgetown to define cyberbullying in its Code of Student Conduct. The university already has an anti-harassment policy in place listed under the violations of the code, which defines harassment as “any intentional or persistent act(s) deemed intimidating, hostile, coercive or offensive.”

The bill, named for the Rutgers freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge as a result of personally invasive cyberbullying in fall 2010, is co-sponsored by several other senators, including Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Co-Director of the Student Advocacy Office Ryan Shymansky (COL ’16) said he believes that the policy as it is already functions effectively to serve Georgetown students.

“[The conduct code is] actually very broad, in that it covers coercive actions, intimidating actions, hostile actions,” Shymansky said. “So it’s kind of a catch-all thing for what student conduct needs it to be. It would be nice to have a formal definition that was perhaps more specific and spelled out things better. But on the flip side of that, I will say the positive takeaway is that the harassment policy is broad enough that Student Conduct is able to adjudicate what they need to.”

Shymansky emphasized the balance of the code, and the potential danger of attempting to add the cyberbullying portion to it.

“I don’t want to commit to saying that it [the general policy] is working because clearly, specifically, I’m going to say that cyberbullying isn’t addressed in the policy as clearly as it should be,” Shymansky said. “The con of that is you don’t want to limit the ability to effectively adjudicate harassment cases by perhaps limiting things too much.”

The new bill specifies harassment on the basis of “a student’s actual or perceived- race; color; national origin; sex; disability; sexual orientation; gender identity or religion.” Georgetown’s Code of Student Conduct addresses some of these factors under headings such as the “Ethos Statement” and “Respect for the Dignity of the Person,” but not under the harassment policy itself.

Beverly Magda, the associate dean of the master of professional studies in technology management, said that academic institutions have a responsibility toward their students in the absence of a federal law about cyberbullying.

“Because of the awareness of [cyberbullying], parents are becoming more involved, schools are becoming more involved,” Magda said. “So I think it’s starting to change but I always find that a lot of laws, historically, are reactive, and it takes a lot of time for laws to catch up to technology. We see it in the information security field also, it’s like something has to happen before a law is enacted or integrated.

Murray reintroduced the bill, which the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) had originally sponsored, as a result of learning that one of her interns in her Washington, D.C. office had undergone harassment because of his sexual orientation. However, SAO co-Director Ben Manzione (SFS ’15) said there were no reported cases of cyberbullying at Georgetown in the year he has already served as co-director.

“We don’t have too many cases regarding harassment, and we can really only speak to the scope of what we have,” Manzione said. “That said, there are measures in place, and the current policies do address some of these issues. However, we haven’t seen too many cases regarding harassment so we can’t say for sure.”

Some students feel that Georgetown’s policy should be expanded to include cyberbullying.

“I definitely think it should be a part of our code of conduct because now, more and more social interactions are going online, and I feel like cyberbullying is worse than bullying especially in regards to sexual assault because the interactions are happening online where other people can see and there are records of it,” Soraya Eid (MSB ’17) said. “Other people have access to it, so that can just worsen the situation for the victim.”

Manzione noted the deficiencies in other areas of the Code of Student Conduct, and how upcoming efforts to institute a hazing policy and expand other sections have taken priority.

“It’s just a matter of prioritizing certain things,” Manzione said. “And I think the recognition that we do have a harassment policy, harassment is adjudicated effectively, I think that’s a good sign. And as long as that’s working as it ought to, there are things that are going to get changed in the code first.”

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