In light of the recent charges brought against actor and comedian Bill Cosby, students continue to question whether Cosby’s honorary degree should be rescinded.
On Dec. 30, 2015, Cosby was charged with three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault. These charges are based on a single incident involving Andrea Constand that allegedly took place at his home in Cheltenham Township, Pa., in 2004. However, over 50 women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct.
Cosby received a Doctorate of Laws from Penn in 1990. In a statement issued on Nov. 6, 2015, Penn announced that it will not be rescinding Cosby’s honorary degree. The University has previously rescinded two honorary degrees.
Students from the Penn Association for Gender Equity said they believe that the charges are long overdue and that Penn should revoke the honor.
“PAGE feels very strongly that rape victims need to be believed, especially in this case where it’s been consistent evidence being brought against him,” College and Wharton junior and Co-Chair of PAGE Megan Yan, who is also a former business manager for The Daily Pennsylvanian, said.
“It took so much time and public pressure to come to the consensus that this is an issue that needs to be addressed, regardless of the status of the figure,” College junior and Co-Chair of PAGE Julia Slater added. “The administration has been saying that sexual assault prevention and support of survivors is high on their agenda, and I think this [rescinding Cosby’s honorary degree] is an important step that they could take to fortify that goal and show that they’re in support of survivors and committed to ending rape culture.”
The student group Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention took an official stance on the issue.
“ASAP believes the lack of response to allegations of sexual assault is just one of many aspects of pervasive rape culture that can be seen throughout America,” College sophomore and Internal Chair of ASAP Rachel Wood wrote in an email. “Lack of response is unfortunately not specific to this case or any case. It is more about a society that is stubborn to give credit to allegations of sexual assault without conviction by jury.”
The sheer number of women who have come out to speak against Cosby and the recent charges against him should have encouraged the University to rescind his honorary degree, said College sophomore and member of Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault Reece Sisto.
He continued, “I would say that the argument could be made for that [not rescinding his honorary degree] had he attended the institution and gotten a tangible, real degree from the school, in the same way that if you go to college and later commit a crime, you don’t lose that degree.”
“I think he does deserve whatever public outcry is happening, whatever cases are brought against him, whatever charges are brought against him,” College junior Tunmise Fawole said.
In terms of whether Cosby’s honorary degree should be rescinded, Fawole said, “In this case, I feel it should be done, but who makes that decision? Whose responsibility within the University is it to handle these questions, especially when there’s such a large public outcry?”
Fawole added that she believes the University should establish a public forum to discuss this type of issue with students, faculty and administrators when the need arises.
“Bill Cosby is not the character he played. He’s an actor. He’s a human being. It’s hard because I think his character was a culturally revered person and to separate that is very difficult,” Yan said.
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