When comedian Hannibal Buress called out fellow funnyman Bill Cosby at the Trocadero Theatre on Oct. 17 for allegedly being a rapist, many Americans were newly enraged – even though Cosby’s sexual assault allegations first surfaced in 2000, when the New York Post reported that Lachele Covington, a former “Cosby Show” extra, had accused him of molesting her.
“I guess I want to just at least make it weird for you to watch ‘Cosby Show’ reruns,” Buress said during his set. “When you leave here, Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ That sh– has more results than ‘Hannibal Buress.’”
A week after Buress’s set, Barbara Bowman, an alleged victim of Cosby, told the Daily Mail the full story of her experiences with Cosby, saying she was “drugged and raped by that man” when she was a teen.
Both local and national media outlets, including Philly Mag and the Washington Post, used Buress’s and Bowman’s statements to rehash Cosby’s previous allegations, but the majority of the backlash came from viral publications like Gawker.
The original YouTube video of Buress’s performance had nearly 200,000 views at the time of print, although the video exists on a number of other media sharing platforms as well.
Buress later told the Howard Stern Show he wasn’t sure why that particular set went viral – it wasn’t his first time performing that material, and it’s not as if Cosby’s allegations were never extensively covered by local and national media.
I like to think it’s because the set was at a venue in Philadelphia – a city which has for decades acted as both the parent and the offspring of the coolest dad in America. Temple, Cosby’s alma mater, is a vital part of this image, but I hope the response to Buress’s remarks will encourage the university to stop deifying its arguably most famous alumnus.
On Oct. 14, Cosby was unanimously re-elected to the Board of Trustees, the wealthy, elite group that holds the final say in all of Temple’s governance and policies, according to its website. Cosby regularly speaks at commencement. On Aug. 22, he made his most recent Main Campus appearance when he spoke to the freshman class at Convocation.
Four days later, Temple’s news center heralded Cosby for recently being inducted into the Writers’ Guild of America. The university honored him with an “intimate” ceremony in the Writing Center a week before he “wowed” audiences at Convocation, according to the publication.
Ray Betzner, spokesperson for the university, said that because Cosby’s allegations never transcended rumor and innuendo, the university cannot make a comment on them.
“Dr. Cosby is one of the best known alum[ni] of Temple University,” Betzner said. “He’s a longtime member of the Board of Trustees, and he’s been active with Temple students for a number of years, particularly at graduation.”
Cosby is both literally and metaphorically powerful in the Temple community. He’s usually the first person mentioned in discussions about Temple’s most renowned alumni. He frequently shows face at the university and he holds a spot on its most powerful committee.
In short, Temple seems to be banking on Cosby’s star power, remembering him for his colorful sweaters and Pudding Pops as it fails to acknowledge his muddy backstory.
One of Cosby’s alleged sexual assault victims, Andrea Constand, was the former director of operations of Temple’s women’s basketball team.
Constand filed a $150,000 suit against Cosby, accusing him of battery, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress, in 2005. According to her lawsuit, the comedian, whom Constand met through Temple, invited her to his home in the previous year, where he gave her sedative drugs and molested her while she was barely conscious.
Thirteen women agreed to act as witnesses for the suit – and many have publicly come forward with their own disturbing stories about Cosby, who settled with unknown terms in 2006.
These alleged victims came forward after their statutes of limitations have ended – they can’t press criminal charges against Cosby. Instead, several have cited feelings of empowerment as their incentive to speak up.
“If I can help one victim, then I’ve done my job,” Bowman told The Daily Mail.
Even though it’s too late for monetary gain or formal justice in the form of fines or imprisonment, many alleged victims want to keep other women safe by making them aware of what happened – a detail I think is crucial to keep in mind when evaluating the veracity of these women’s accounts.
While it’s important to emphasize that Cosby has never been charged or convicted of any sexual crime, it’s perturbing that such publicly accessible information appears to have been brushed under the rug.
Cosby and his image are frequently touted as inspirational by Temple’s administration and students. After he was greeted to thundering applause at Convocation, students tweeted about him until he trended nationwide, according to Temple’s news center. #Temple2018 trended that day as well.
In May, Cosby spoke heavily about family values at the Class of 2014’s Commencement.
“Your curse is coming,” he told students. “And that curse is one day you will fall in love, and you will marry somebody or you will live with somebody, and you will decide to multiply.”
I find it more than a little concerning that Cosby is permitted to frequently make speeches at the university, especially ones with this kind of content.
While Temple is doing nothing illegal by unequivocally endorsing Bill Cosby’s existence, I question the ethics of valuing a man’s fame and perceived charisma over the increasingly substantial evidence that he may have committed sexual crimes.
After Dylan Farrow published an open letter in the New York Times earlier this year about her alleged abuse from Woody Allen, it seems there’s an increasing urgency to background check the moral fabric of our beloved celebrities. Sometimes, as demonstrated by the popular Tumblr blog, “Your Fave is Problematic,” it’s to an almost excessive extent. But the sentiment remains – in cases like these, allegations can be just as condemning, in fans’ eyes, as convictions.
In the case of Cosby, I think Temple would truly stand out as an institution of high regard if it publicly voiced its displeasure with the man’s allegations – and as a school that boasts of its safety for victims of sexual assault, having just recently invoked a committee dedicated solely to sexual misconduct, speaking up about this is the least we can do.
Temple is in a particularly powerful position. If Cosby’s alma mater decided to take a stance against his allegations, surely more people and organizations would follow suit. In other words, the university has the ability to make a conversation about Cosby impossible to ignore.
As the nation slowly becomes more and more disillusioned with Cosby’s comforting, fatherly facade, Temple should be at the forefront of the discontent. If anything, continuing to act as if these allegations never happened is only encouraging students to ignore them.
I’m proud to be attending the university that produced Diplo, Noam Chomsky and Hall & Oates. But I’m ashamed that Bill Cosby is still revered as Temple’s most treasured alumnus.
Grace Holleran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @coupsdegrace