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George Washington University to take away Bill Cosby's honorary degree

This booking photograph released by the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office shows Bill Cosby, who was arrested and charged Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in district court in Elkins Park, Pa., with aggravated indecent assault. Cosby is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home in January 2004. (Montgomery County Office of the District Attorney via AP)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - George Washington University will rescind Bill Cosby's honorary degree, the school's President Steven Knapp announced Monday.

On the campus of George Washington University, there is excitement from students who feel they made a difference.

"I was just overjoyed," said Erika Feinman, who is a student advocate.

Feinman and Lauren Courtney just got back from winter break to learn the news that the president of GW is taking back the honorary degree awarded to Bill Cosby.

For them, it's personal.

"I was assaulted the summer before I came to college," said Courtney.

"The first time it happened I was in kindergarten," said Feinman.

Both students met with GU President Steven Knapp after he said it was never the University's practice to rescind a degree based on later information.

But on Monday, in a statement, Knapp said " the controversy itself has become a cause of renewed stress for our students and alumni who are survivors of sexual assault. That makes this case different."

Andie Dowd is the president of the Student Association.

"It says we believe them," said Dowd.

In 1997, Cosby spoke to graduates on the National Mall and was awarded the honorary degree. Since then, Cosby was charged with drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home in Pennsylvania over a decade ago. Dozens more have similar accusations, and Cosby admitted in one case to getting drugs for women with whom he planned to have sex.

"No matter how many degrees you rescind, no matter how many programs that we put in place to prevent sexual violence there needs to be a culture change nationwide."

A spokeswoman said the University will formally notify Cosby of its decision.

Read Knapp's full announcement:

To the GW Community:
I write to let you know what the university has been doing and is continuing to do in response to the ongoing problem of sexual assault that afflicts every college campus, including ours.
In September 2014, then-president of the Student Association Nick Gumas and I went to the White House to attend President Obama's and Vice President Biden's launch of the "It's on Us" campaign, which asked all of us to take personal responsibility for preventing sexual assault on America's campuses. Our student organizations, including our athletic teams, responded with a series of inspiring video messages, and our engagement in the campaign continues this year.
The following month (October 2014), we appointed Rory Muhammad as Title IX coordinator; last March, the university hired Carrie Ross as its first assistant director for sexual assault prevention and response. Since then, Mr. Muhammad and Ms. Ross have played an important role in working with survivors and student leaders to develop a mandatory training program that is now firmly in place. That program includes mandatory sessions during Colonial Inauguration and Welcome Week, as well as online training for freshmen in the summer preceding their arrival.
In light of these efforts, students last fall raised the question of whether, given the numerous allegations of sexual assault against Bill Cosby, the university should rescind the honorary doctoral degree it conferred on Mr. Cosby in 1997. Last October, we issued a statement indicating that honorary degrees were conferred at a moment in time, based upon what was known about the candidate at that time, and it had never been the university's practice to rescind a degree in response to later information. Since then, however, I have continued to discuss this issue with students as well as colleagues. What has particularly moved and impressed me has been the argument that, whatever may ultimately be determined about the guilt or innocence of Mr. Cosby in a court of law, the controversy itself has become a cause of renewed distress for our students and alumni who are survivors of sexual assault. That makes this case different, in my considered judgment, from other cases in which the assessment of a degree candidate might be altered by subsequent information or events. I have therefore decided that the university will rescind Mr. Cosby's honorary degree.
This action by itself will not end the scourge of sexual assault on this or any other campus. We will need to continue working as a community in the spirit of the "It's on Us" campaign. If you have suggestions about how we might strengthen our efforts, or if you wish to find out more about what we are already doing, please visit haven.gwu.edu.
Thank you.
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