In light of the recent news that Bill Cosby allegedly assaulted race officiant Donna Barrett at the 2004 Penn Relays, students are questioning whether Penn should revoke Cosby’s honorary degree. Many other universities, such as Lehigh University and Tufts University, have already done so.
Penn has declined to comment on whether it’s considering falling in line with these other institutions. Cosby received his honorary Doctorate of Laws from Penn in 1990 and was the commencement speaker in 1997.
Students have called for the University to take a stand against Cosby, who now faces accusations from over 50 women who say the comedian raped or sexually assaulted them.
“We shouldn’t be viewing him as someone we should be commending for his achievements,” College sophomore Victoria Xiao said. “Even without the incident where he allegedly assaulted a woman at the Penn Relays, it’s clear that Bill Cosby is not someone who should be admired or commended.”
One student, who took her case to Penn after being sexually assaulted, said she doubts Penn will denounce Cosby and is not surprised Penn has remained silent thus far. She believes Penn does not have enough reason to take away Cosby’s degree.
The Penn Association for Gender Equity argues that Penn’s silence is tacit approval of the allegations of sexual assault held against Cosby.
“Honorary degrees are [a] university’s way of commending individuals for their contribution to society and the way they live their lives. Penn should not honor individuals that perpetuate sexual assault — and more broadly — and a culture of shame and silencing of sexual assault survivors,” a representative from PAGE wrote in an email.
The Association of American University’s recent sexual climate survey results suggest Penn students are slow to trust the administration’s handling of sexual misconduct cases. Just over half of respondents from Penn reported that a victim reporting a sexual violence crime would be supported by the university. The survey found that by senior year, almost a third of Penn female undergrads say they’ve been sexually assaulted. In an email to the Penn community, Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price said the administration finds the results of the survey “deeply troubling.”
The Penn Women’s Center did not respond to emails requesting comment, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Life referred comment to University Communications, which has declined to comment on the issue.
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