The university recently renovated Founder’s Garden and unveiled O’Connor Plaza, located on Polett and Liacouras walks. It’s located at the heart of Main Campus — named after Board of Trustees Chairman, Patrick J. O’Connor and his wife, Marie. A university press release said the plaza is “dedicated as a tribute to their lifetime of leadership and support of Temple.”
But the reality is that O’Connor’s name does not belong in this sacred spot. Founder’s Garden is the burial site of our beloved founder, Russell Conwell. And our new, bronze owl statue represents our mascot — an ode to Temple’s early days when it was mostly a night school. This place reminds us of the university’s history and represents the beauty of our community and its future. O’Connor’s name casts an ugly and negative light on that.
This is a man that defended Bill Cosby — our once most famous and now most infamous alumnus — in court. Cosby stepped down from the BOT after sexual assault allegations against him were made public. One of his accusers is Andrea Constand, a former Temple employee — one of our own.
O’Connor’s defense of Cosby raised ethical questions due to his position on the BOT while legally representing a former member. The president of the Temple Association of University Professionals asked O’Connor to step down in 2015.
Instead, Temple allowed him to stay on the BOT and is now choosing to honor him.
The optics are atrocious: all of Cosby’s alleged crimes are heinous. But as a Temple student, Constand’s story is especially disturbing. Everyone has the right to feel safe where they work and study, and Constand met Cosby because of their relations with the university. She worked with our women’s basketball team and met him through her job. Cosby, a university trustee, allegedly sexually assaulted her. Another BOT member defended him. Now, the university honors the defense.
Whose side does it look like Temple is on — the abuser or the abused? How we handle O’Connor’s legacy at the university is crucial, especially now.
Last month, Temple Student Government’s Communication Director Sarah Madaus said that TSG wants to “create an environment at Temple that will combat the perpetuation of rape culture, empower survivors and motivate bystanders to intervene in questionable situations while giving the tools and knowledge to change the culture on campus and nationwide.”
Something like this is a worthy goal, and honoring O’Connor is counterintuitive to that.
The rights of victims are constantly being questioned and undermined. Last month, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said the White House has already begun the process of rolling back Title IX, which offers broad protections for victims of sexual assault. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, said they were “deeply disappointed in the decision to rescind existing policies on campus sexual violence.”
As a campus that is participating in the “It’s On Us” campaign to combat sexual assault, we have to be more aggressive than ever in doing so. We have to counteract the perpetrators, defenders and enablers.
Thus, it should go without saying what we as a university must do — remove O’Connor’s name from our campus.
Melissa Bellerjeau is a junior journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.