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Why Hasn’t Wesleyan Rescinded Bill Cosby’s 1987 Honorary Doctorate?

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Cosby meeting with the Director of University Relations and John Woodhouse ’53 during a 2010 fundraising event for Green Street Arts Center. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Content warning: This article discusses allegations of sexual assault. Community and official support resources can be accessed here, here, and here.

Conversations and actions regarding sexual assault at Wesleyan are nothing new. Hookup culture at this University has extensively been written about on Wesleying and elsewhere. Wesleyan was featured in Kirby Dick’s The Hunting Ground, a 2015 documentary about rape on college campuses. Wesleyan also has a longstanding history of association with Bill Cosby.

It is news to none that there is strong evidence to suggest that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist. Cosby has now been formally charged with three felony accounts of aggravated indecent assault, which comes after more than 40 women have come forward publicly stating that they are survivors of instances in which Bill Cosby sexually assaulted them. In the cultural dialogue that followed the bringing-forth of these stories, attention began to turn to the 37 colleges and universities, Wesleyan being one, that have granted Cosby an honorary degree, a symbol of institutional support. Questions were being raised as to whether these degrees should be rescinded as a means to destroy this symbolism in college environments already plagued with rape culture.

In 1987, Wesleyan granted Cosby an honorary doctorate of letters. That same year, Cosby gave the commencement address, the full-text of which can be found here. Cosby’s daughter, Erika Ranee Cosby ’87, received a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan that day as well.

In April 2015, the Argus published an article on whether Wesleyan would rescind Cosby’s honorary doctorate, and in it, President Roth stated: