A cheery, middle-aged man cracking jokes while wearing an eclectic frumpy sweater is no longer the first association people have with the name Bill Cosby. The man who was once the American television father-figure is now better known as the man who has been accused of sexually assaulting over 40 women.
According to USA Today, Fordham University, Marquette University, Brown University and most recently, Lehigh University, have revoked the honorary degrees they awarded to Cosby. These decisions were a reaction to the recent allegations made against him. Time reported that the president of Brown University emailed students saying Cosby no longer meets the expectations of the school.
Cosby was the 1987 commencement speaker at Lehigh, for which he held an honorary doctor of laws degree, according to a Lehigh news article. Because of the recent allegations against Cosby and the decisions of other universities to rescind his honorary degrees, Lehigh decided to also retract the one it had awarded to him.
Lehigh and the other institutions who have awarded Cosby honorary degrees have the responsibility to revoke them from him. Because Cosby is a public figure being accused of sexual assault, allowing him to keep the award could be likened to condoning his actions and saying sexual assault is permissible. The universities have a duty to take a stand on the situation and not allow Cosby’s actions to be a misrepresentation of the institution and what it morally stands for.
Lehigh rescinding the award, however, is an opportunity for the university to make a statement that we are not a bystander in this situation. Many of the alleged rapes no longer fall under the statute of limitations because they occurred so long ago, but Lehigh and other schools choosing to revoke the award makes a statement. It shows that although there may not be a court case for these alleged assaults, we still acknowledge the events, the fact that they matter and that Cosby’s actions were not right.
This sentiment is not entirely unrelated to our lives as college students. Colleges are notorious for having high numbers of sexual assault. Because the issue at hand is so relevant to issues occurring at universities, there is no justification for the schools to allow Cosby to retain his award. Doing so would work against the stance of intolerance for sexual violence that so many colleges have adopted. Once a university, such as Lehigh, has chosen to revoke Cosby’s award, it is only a first step in speaking out against sexual assault.
Revoking the honorary degrees given to Cosby is an opportunity for Lehigh to take a stand on a too-frequent negative occurrence that is prominent across this nation’s universities. Lehigh has a responsibility to show that our university does not condone the crimes Cosby has committed, and revoking his award is the best way to start. Doing so sets the precedent that such behavior will not be tolerated on campus.
Revoking Cosby’s degree is just the preliminary step for making a greater stand. Cosby’s incident is just one of many in the realm of sexual assault issues, just as this step taken by Lehigh is one of many that will need to be taken to eradicate the issue as a whole.