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A bill introduced in the U.S Senate and House of Representatives last Thursday would require universities that receive federal funding to prohibit harassment based on a student’s sexual orientation, among other factors.

The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act is named after a Rutgers University student who committed suicide in September. His suicide followed a video posted online by his roommate and another student of a sexual encounter Clementi had with another man.

Introduced by two New Jersey Democrats — Sen. Frank Lautenberg and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt — the act comes in the wake of a series of suicides among teenagers who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

If passed, the law would also require universities to recognize cyberbullying as a form of harassment.

A similar anti-bullying bill for public schools was passed by the New Jersey State Assembly and Senate on Monday by an overwhelming margin. The bill makes harassment grounds for expulsion and authorizes disciplinary action against administrators that fail to investigate bullying incidents.

The legislation had been in the works for about a year but gained momentum after Clementi’s death.

University spokeswoman Lori Doyle wrote in an e-mail that while Penn’s Code of Student Conduct does not explicitly use the term cyberbullying, “it clearly would apply to any type of harassment or bullying.”

She added, “Penn has a very strong anti-harassment policy and has zero tolerance for any type of harassment.”

Penn’s Code of Student Conduct explicitly condemns hate speech, but adds that the “content of student speech or expression is not by itself a basis for disciplinary action.”

The University’s Policy on Acceptable Use of Electronic Resources also prohibits communications that include “threats of violence” and “harassing communications,” as defined by law, on University computers, networks, e-mail services and other electronic information sources.

But like the Code of Student Conduct, “the content of electronic communications is not by itself a basis for disciplinary action.”

Bob Schoenberg, director of the LGBT Center at Penn, made note of the tension between protecting students from hate speech and recognizing their rights to free speech. However, a student clearly violates University policy when his or her speech is “paired with a threat,” he added.

Schoenberg also expressed doubts about whether the national legislation would make it through Congress.

Currently, the federal bill rests in committee in both chambers. The bill could be fast tracked if legislators deem it noncontroversial, bringing it to the floor without a committee vote. However, legislators would then need large bipartisan support to pass the bill.

Noncontroversial legislation is generally passed through suspension of the rules in the House, a procedure that requires two-thirds of the chamber to vote in favor of the bill, while the Senate would need all legislators to unanimously consent to the bill.

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