The Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU), a student-run organization at Johns Hopkins University, is working with Lili Bernard, an actor who says Bill Cosbydrugged and raped her while she was preparing to guest-star on “The Cosby Show,” to get the university to repeal the honorary doctorate degree that it gave Cosby in 2004.
A press release from SARU (sent out by JHU student and CP intern alumna Jessica Kim Cohen) said, “Cosby accuser, Lili Bernard, who is a visual artist-actor and parent of a Johns Hopkins University (JHU) freshman, asked the university to repeal Cosby’s honorary doctorate degree this past Saturday, Oct. 24, during JHU Family Weekend. Accompanied by seven members of Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU), a JHU student-run advocacy group, Bernard met and shared her story with JHU Secretary of the Board of Trustees, Maureen Marsh, and JHU Interim Vice President and General Counsel, Paul Pineau. JHU has not yet released a decision.
“At the meeting, two of Bernard’s witnesses (her talent agent at the time and a production assistant of ‘The Cosby Show’) spoke via video chat, so that JHU could vet Bernard’s story. Bernard alleges that in the early 1990s, during her preparation to guest star as a main character on ‘The Cosby Show,’ Bill Cosby drugged and raped her, and threatened serious consequences on her life. On April 30, 2015, empowered by the dozens of Cosby survivors who publicly disclosed their stories, Bernard filed a police report in Atlantic City, N.J., where Cosby allegedly drugged and raped her. The D.A. did not press charges on the grounds that the incident allegedly occurred just a few months outside the statute of limitations.”
As Vulture pointed out in an article published on Tuesday, Cosby had been the recipient of more than 60 honorary degrees. While many schools (including Goucher College) have repealed those degrees in light of the accusations from nearly 60 women who say that Cosby sexually assaulted or raped them, more than 40 remaining universities have not revoked them, including Johns Hopkins University. When Vulture asked JHU if it was planning on revoking his degree, the school responded, “At this point, we do not have anything to say.”
Dennis O’Shea, the executive director of media relations and crisis communications for JHU, told City Paper yesterday that the university had no comment on the meeting SARU had with university officials.
Ella Rogers-Fett, a senior at Hopkins and the co-director of SARU, wrote via email, “Lili Bernard got in touch with SARU representatives when she traveled to Baltimore for JHU Parents Weekend. On Friday afternoon (the 23rd) I had the opportunity to meet with her and discuss survivor advocacy.” She wrote that SARU plans on reaching out to student groups from other schools, including University of Maryland, George Washington University, NYU, Temple University, and University of Notre Dame to place pressure on those schools to also revoke the honorary degrees they had given Cosby.
On its Facebook page, SARU wrote on Tuesday, “The gesture of repealing Cosby’s degree would show support for Lili and her family as part of the JHU community, and for student sexual assault survivors. It would also demonstrate that JHU is serious about correcting their negative history of failing to adequately respond to sexual assault violations.” City Paper wrote at length in June about JHU’s long struggles with gender discrimination and sexual assault on its campus.
SARU’s Facebook post also encouraged Hopkins students to email Interim Vice President and General Council Paul Pineau to weigh in on the decision regarding Cosby’s honorary degree.