When you begin a discussion about harassment laws, there are some who will dismiss the issue; “you can’t prove it!” “It’s ‘he said-she said’!” or “it isn’t that big of an issue” people scream. Throw in a college setting, rife with a misunderstanding of “trigger warnings” and “special snowflakes” and suddenly any discussion about harassment becomes almost impossible for some.
But this doesn’t mean that campus harassment isn’t a very real and very legitimate issue. People often forget that college campuses are unique beasts when it comes to law enforcement. The line is often blurred between what is considered an administrative issue versus a campus police issue versus a traditional law enforcement issue. The simple fact is that, unless the state sets clear and specific guidelines, things often can (and do) get glossed over or missed entirely.
[pullquote]If a school denies a student of an opportunity would be called discrimination. If a student under the age of 18 were doing this to another student, we would call it bullying, and school districts would have the power to intervene. But student-on-student harassment in a college setting is a bit different. Yes, these individuals are technically adults but are still fully capable of schoolyard psychology.[/pullquote]Legally, harassment is defined as the intent to frighten or harass another by communicating a written or recorded threat to commit any violent felony. Similarly, a person threatens another if they state that they will commit any offense involving bodily injury, death, or substantial property damage, and acts with intent to place a person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury, substantial bodily injury, death, or the person makes a threat that is accompanied by a show of immediate force or violence (both acts are class B misdemeanors).
So why, then, does Representative Kim Coleman (Republican – West Jordan) feel the need for HB 103 – Campus Anti-Harassment Act? After all, don’t the laws sufficiently cover any act of harassment already? Well, a clue can be found in the need for such legislation on line 53 which states that “Discriminatory harassment means student-on-student speech that is…so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from a student’s education experience, that the student is effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resource or opportunity.”
Ponder that for a moment – so severe that it denies a student from being able to receive an opportunity that they otherwise should have been able to receive because of the actions of another student.
Here we find the need for Coleman’s bill. If the school itself were overtly, or through de facto means, denying a student of an opportunity would be called discrimination. If a student under the age of 18 were doing this to another student, we would call it bullying, and school districts would have the power to intervene. But student-on-student harassment in a college setting is a bit different. Yes, these individuals are technically adults but are still fully capable of schoolyard psychology. What makes matters worse is that such harassment can fundamentally alter an adult’s life by diverting efforts away from study.
But that is only half of the story.
Colleges and universities, through the above-mentioned mishmash of vague rules and regulations often can’t or won’t act to counter such actions in the first place; they either don’t know what they can do or are not punished for not acting when they should. The result has been a system that either results in full-blown legal action or no action at all.
HB 103 helps to eliminate this by making it clear that “if an institution gains actual knowledge of an act of discriminatory harassment…[they will] take immediate action to eliminate the [harssment], and address the effects.” If the institution knowingly ignores such discrimination, they are open to lawsuits and may be fined no less than $1,000, depending on the findings of the case.
The bill does provide a carve out for First Amendment protections to ensure that Free Speech rights are not being violated.
With the passage of HB 103, institutions have a clearer set of rules and guidelines that they are expected to follow, and a clear punishment if they don’t act. No doubt specific findings will be carried out through common law, but HB 103 provides a framework. Yes, it would make things sticky, but it would be leaps and bounds better than the current setup where ambiguity reigns.
To contact Representative Coleman, click here or call 801-865-8970.
|Impact on Average Utahn||1|
|Need for Legislation||5|