As students at a university, having left behind the confines of their high school halls and their grade school playgrounds, it is sometimes easy to pretend like bullying doesn’t happen. For most college students, bullying was something that they left back with their lockers and hall passes, something of the past. Unfortunately, recent events, like the very close to home and horrible loss of fellow Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, has brought to light the realization that bullying is still going on, even at the university level, and that it can be extremely dangerous.
The response of students is heartening. The general consensus, now that the issue of bullying has been pushed out into the open, is that students were unaware that it was happening. Now that they know, they will do anything in their power for it to stop. The sheer idea that somewhere like a college campus, where men and women strive for knowledge and are supposed to learn open-mindedness, is harboring bullying is simply unacceptable to the majority of students at Rutgers and at universities in general. Thankfully, the NJ government seems to agree.
On Monday, October 25 a brand new bill was proposed to Legislature, and students of New Jersey will be happy to know that state legislators are taking steps to prevent bullying issues from continuing. The bill, which is being called the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights”, is meant to protect students at all levels of education from harassment and unease, and to keep them out of danger.
Senate Majority Leader and Democrat Barbara Buono is one of the main sponsors of the bill, and she put it very simply when she said, “Our efforts today are based on the very simple belief that no child should ever be afraid of going to school.” The main point that the bipartisan legislators and advocates are trying to address with this new anti-bullying bill is that clearly the old laws were not doing enough. It is time to make a change and to prevent awful situations like the early demise of Tyler Clementi from ever happening again.
An estimated 160,000 students all over the US avoid school each and every day because they fear being bullied. With numbers like that it is exceptionally clear that the 2002 laws against bullying and harassment are just not cutting it. Even the definition of bullying is not the same in this day and age.
According to the 2002 210th Legislature, the definition of harassment or bullying is as follows: “Harassment, intimidation or bullying” means any gesture or written, verbal or physical act that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory handicap, or by any other distinguishing characteristic, that takes place on school property, at any school-sponsored function or on a school bus and that a. a reasonable person should know, under the circumstances, will have the effect of harming a student or damaging the student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of harm to his person or damage to his property; or b. has the effect of insulting or demeaning any student or group of students in such a way as to cause substantial disruption in, or substantial interference with, the orderly operation of the school.”
This is all very true, but is it enough? Better defined by Buono, who said, “We must accept that kids can be bullied at any time and any place, whether it be face-to-face or through hateful messages on a cell phone. We must protect our kids and allow them to grow up free of the emotional pain that can lead them into despair that life is not worth living.”
This new bill will give teachers, faculty, and the school community itself the tools to respond to the signs of bullying and harassment both more quickly and more efficiently. The state education commissioner will grade schools on their response to any incidents. The bill also proposes penalties for any education officials who do not give a proficient response to bullying in their school system.
And, the big difference for college students, this bill blankets bullying off school grounds and covers university students as well.
Between a school safety team for each school, a large amount of training, and a determined attitude fueled by an honorable goal, the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” seems to be exactly what NJ needs right now. Though this bill was not written as a response to the death of Tyler Clementi, its cause was certainly made more real in the eyes of Rutgers students and students everywhere with this tragic event in such recent past.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of the civil rights group Garden State Equality, said that the bill was written because it was necessary and because they anticipated that a tragedy could happen. “God, nobody wishes we were correct,” said Goldstein.
Recent events and the introduction of this new bill have Legislature and college students, as well as most of NJ and the nation, on the same page: Bullying is happening, it is doing far more damage than we knew, and it needs to stop. The “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” is a great first step.