Let’s Make “Dignity For All Students” More Than Just an Act

We need to create Upstanders by changing people's hearts and minds and not just through legislation.

Let's Make "Dignity For All Students" More Than Just an Act

In 2010, New York state signed into law the Dignity for All Students Act. In an effort to help reduce bullying, the law relies on school officials to keep track and report all bullying incidents, including those that happen online. Unfortunately, a recent analysis of the reports gathered from New York schools shows that this is not capturing the full scope of the problem.

According to a Times Union analysis of the data, 75 percent of New York State schools reported that there were zero cyberbullying incidents. Senator Carl Marcellino, the chairman of the State Education Committee, stated that “to believe so few districts have experienced these types of incidents would be foolish.”

While it is fortunate that New York state officials are trying to make changes to the Act to make it more effective, I believe it highlights why state and national laws are not enough to address the issues of bullying, harassment and humiliation. According to a recent national survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), over a quarter of schools in states with anti-bullying laws have no bullying policy in place. In schools where there are bullying policies, 38.7% do not specify protections for students based on real or perceived sexual orientation. This leaves a huge amount of students left feeling like they do not have the support of their schools if they are the victims of bullying.

For these reasons, I believe the issue needs to be addressed on multiple fronts, not just the legislative level. Students, parents, and educators need to work together to make sure that everyone knows what type of behavior is unacceptable and that their communities can support them. That is why the programs created by the Tyler Clementi Foundation aim to fill a gap in the sector by providing a range of interventions and approaches.

Programs like the Upstander Speaker Series and #Day1 Campaign make conversations around bullying much more local and personal. Having a speaker like Jane Clementi come into a community to share her story, or using the #Day1 program on the first day of school helps confront the issues in the environments where they actually occur. To make sure these programs are as effective as possible, TCF also created the Tyler Clementi Institute for Internet Safety at New York Law School to conduct research, and provide analysis of bullying prevention. TCF does realize the importance of bullying policy which is why the Foundation supports passage of the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, to encourage college campuses to have stronger anti-bullying policies.

While each of these programs have their strengths, it is when they are used in tandem that real progress can be made.