Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Letter to the Editor: Rescind Bill Cosby’s honorary degree

Meghan Hampsey is a junior majoring in political communication.

I’m writing in response to the op-ed, “There’s no need to void Bill Cosby’s honorary degree” by Stephen Joel Trachtenberg (Oct. 15, online).

Professor Trachtenberg, I found your recent op-ed to be deeply problematic and insulting on multiple fronts. The rhetoric you used surrounding sexual assault and mental illness is simply unacceptable. You downgrade sexual violence and further stigmatize mental illness. I am worried that those who remain uneducated about sexual violence and mental illness will read your piece and not recognize the multiple issues it raises.

It is important that you’re aware of the harmful language you use when discussing these sensitive subjects. Referring to survivors of sexual violence as “the abused” as you did in your op-ed defines them by their assault. This is troubling because it labels them as victims and strips them of their individual experiences.

How dare you decide what will and will not “comfort the abused”? While rescinding Bill Cosby’s honorary degree may not take away those women’s pain, it will prove that you stand with them, and that our University does not tolerate sexual violence. Instead, you are now sending the message that you do not take their assaults seriously, and that you put Cosby’s accomplishments ahead of his character.

Your language in reference to Cosby is alarming. Call him what he is: a sexual predator. He drugged more than 50 women and sexually assaulted many of them, but you defend him. You are “disinclined to kick him again,” but he is not the one in need of protection.

Why are you more sensitive to his feelings than those of the survivors? How can survivors at GW trust officials to stand by them when you are choosing to stand by Cosby? You are maligning our University’s reputation in the eyes of the public and of the students.

Additionally, as someone who suffers from mental illness, I am seriously offended by your speculation of Cosby’s “mental health issues that may underlie the behavior that numerous women have reported.” This speculation is insulting to those who actually suffer from mental illness. It ignores the mental and emotional trauma of the women he took advantage of.

You further stigmatize the mentally ill by aligning them with a sexual assailant, making it seem as if all mentally ill people are unable to control themselves. Do not make such rash generalizations or assumptions. The only cause for rape is rapists. Everyone is responsible for his or her actions, and mental illness is never an excuse for rape.

While you were not in the wrong for giving Cosby the degree before knowing the truth, you are at fault for not advocating rescinding it now. Rescinding the degree is not “rewriting the past” – it’s amending your decision because the changed circumstances require it.

You must put our University on the moral side of this issue. Let us join the other seven schools who have rescinded Cosby’s honorary degrees, and prove to the public and the student body that GW will not tolerate sexual violence. Otherwise, do everyone a favor and keep your insulting views out of the media, and to yourself.

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