Patty in the News

Sen. Patty Murray spoke to representatives of the UW’s queer community Thursday about her new legislation, The Tyler Clementi Education Anti-Harassment Act.

The legislation — an amendment to the 1965 Higher Education Act —  requires that all colleges and universities receiving federal funds must have a policy in place for dealing with harassment of students.

“[Schools] don’t have to accept the federal money if they don’t want to,” Murray said, challenging colleges and universities opposed to her recently reintroduced legislation aimed at curbing harassment of college students.

The legislation was named for a Rutgers University student who committed suicide in 2010 after his roommate streamed video of Clementi with another man in a private moment. 

“In the other Washington, I’m always proud to tout how great Washington state is,” Murray said. “I’m really proud of what we do for our LGBT community, [but] that is not the case across the country at all.”

The bill was originally introduced to Congress in 2011 by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who passed away last year. Murray decided to reintroduce the bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), after speaking with Kristopher Sharp, an intern in her office, who had himself experienced harassment as an undergraduate.

Sharp was running for student government at the University of Houston-Downtown when flyers were distributed on campus that read “Want AIDS? Don’t support the Isaac and Kris homosexual agenda.” Sharp’s private medical records, which revealed he is HIV positive, were printed on the back.

“It’s pretty dramatic for a young person … to have to come out about something like that in that way,” Sharp said. “[But] what was most shocking was the administration’s reaction.”

Sharp was called into the dean’s office where he was told that, though the administration was sorry, there was nothing that could be done. At one point, the local police department, which was eventually called in to investigate after the media picked up on the story, accused Sharp of personally orchestrating the distribution of the flyers for publicity.

“Students everywhere are having to deal with harassment and bullying and there’s no clear way to address it,” Sharp said.

The UW community members present at Thursday’s roundtable echoed Sharp’s statements.

Senior Nicole Masangkay, director of the ASUW Queer Student Commission, has struggled to cope with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by harassment.

This harassment is the result of “a constellation of things that have to do with racism and also my queerness,” Masangkay said.

At certain points in their undergraduate career, Masangkay has had to file petitions for hardship withdrawals. These withdrawals are granted to students who cannot complete their coursework due to “physical or mental debilitation” or “unusual or extenuating circumstances beyond their control.”

Masangkay and other students have found solace in the UW’s Q Center. The center hosts student groups, provides resources, and sponsors activities for student, faculty, staff, and community members.

“The UW, I would argue, is way ahead of the curve,” said Jennifer Self, director of the center and a participant in the roundtable. “And even so, the Q Center has been a necessary part of this institution.”

In her time at the center, Self has worked with students who have been harassed in class, in the dorms, and on the Ave.

“People think Seattle’s a little bit liberal and everything’s going to be okay, but that’s certainly not the case,” Self said.

For these reasons and many more, Self believes it is essential that all colleges and universities provide students with a safe space that gives them the support they need. However, fewer than 200 institutions of higher education in the United States currently offer such a space for students to seek support when issues arise.

“I want people to go to school and be educated,” Murray said. “I don’t want them to be thinking, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’ I want them to know that if [they are harassed], they have a place to go, so they can focus on their education.”

- The Daily