After a speech on the Senate floor that chronicled the brutality of online and cyberbullying in colleges across the country, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced legislation to fight bullying in institutions of higher education. With the introduction of the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2014 on March 27, it’s time to reconsider the strength and clarity of Georgetown’s harassment policy.
Georgetown’s current harassment policy condemns verbally abusive and hostile acts, as well as the display or distribution of offensive materials, writings, graffiti or pictures on the basis of characteristics including age, color, disability, gender identity and expression. These characteristics of the harassment policy are all important and necessary distinctions, but the policy’s lack of language pertaining specifically to Internet activities or cyberbullying is disconcerting.
According to a 2010 study published in Procedia, a statistical analysis journal, the prevalence of cyber harassment is increasing, with about 22 percent of college students nationwide identifying as victims of cyberbullying, and 38 percent of college students claiming to know victims of cyberbullying. This demonstrates the genuine threat cyber harassment poses to college students, as well as its increased likelihood in place of face-to-face harassment.
The increased prevalence and severity of cyberbullying in universities has prompted schools like Boston University to create policies protecting students, staff and administrators from harassment over the Internet. BU has established a computer ethics policy and is exploring a program that would serve as a resource for victims of cyberbullying in a demonstration of dedication to student necessities as they evolve with technology. We urge Georgetown to move in this same direction.
Modernizing harassment policies to specifically include cyberbullying within the scope of university harassment will only serve to benefit college communities, providing clarity in regard to cyberbullying situations and making university harassment policies more effective in doling out punishment in such cases.
Georgetown would do well to explore policies and programs that specifically target cyberbullying in order to make its stance on the matter abundantly clear to the university community. Students, staff and administrators of Georgetown can only benefit from a coherent stance on cyber harassment, which will prevent instances of cyberbullying and provide some precedent for any future cases involving Internet harassment.