When news spread across Philadelphia that Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction had been overturned due to a technicality, many people in the city were disgusted. When Cosby left prison, looking triumphant and flashing a “V” for victory in a Central High School T-shirt, a subset of Philadelphians felt an additional layer of disdain. For alumni of Central High School, the sight of Cosby walking out of prison in crimson and gold, having likely gotten away with the rape of dozens of women, was revolting to many Central graduates like myself.
Cosby attended Central briefly in the 1950s. Cosby claims he left our academically rigorous magnet school partway through his freshman year because he preferred to study at Germantown High. However, Central lore has long held that he was expelled.
When I attended Central in the early 1990s Cosby was at the height of his fame thanks to the wildly popular Cosby Show. He wore a Central shirt on one episode and our principal, Sheldon Pavel, made an announcement over the loudspeaker to let students and staff know to tune in. In 1998 Cosby was inducted into the Central Hall of Fame alongside Central alumni and staff who have made significant contributions to medicine, architecture, space exploration, and jurisprudence.
Of course, this was long before Cosby’s long history of sexual assault came to light. During this time Cosby’s alleged victims were intimidated by a wealthy, powerful man into remaining silent. Cosby’s facade remained intact for decades while the women he allegedly drugged and raped remained invisible, likely fearing that no would believe them if they came forward. They probably feared retaliation, that they would be ostracized and that their careers would be ruined, and friends would be lost if they told the truth. There could be financial consequences for going against a man as powerful as Cosby with nearly unlimited resources at his disposal to defend himself.
To Central’s great credit, once allegations about Cosby did come to light Central’s Alumni Board voted to remove him from the school’s Hall of Fame, even before his conviction. In their statement announcing Cosby’s removal, the alumni board stated that they did not believe that Cosby should be held up as a role model for Central students. Cosby had been a donor to Central and I was glad that the school chose integrity over cash. My pride in being a Central alum grew.
This was the Central I knew in the 1990s, a school that upheld excellence and respect for others over taking the easy way out. A school that knew how to face adversity and, through hard work, come to the right conclusion and admit they were wrong about Cosby.
Central was done with Cosby but Cosby was not done with Central. Even after my beloved alma matter sent a strong rebuke to Cosby he continued to wear Central’s crimson and gold. Central alumni, now scattered all across the country, wondered why he would choose to wear a Central shirt when he was released from prison. Many Central alumni, horrified that Cosby used his wealth and influence to obtain an early release for crimes Cosby himself admitted to committing, were quick to point out that he was not, and never was, truly one of ours. Some sources incorrectly reported that Cosby is a Central alum and as an alum of Central, I want to set the record straight.
» READ MORE: A recap of the Cosby case
While I do not speak for all Central alumni, I have spoken to enough to say confidently that he does not represent us. Central had the good sense to part ways with Cosby over a half century ago when he failed to complete a year at our school. Years ago Central took further steps to disassociate our school from Cosby. He does not represent Central values. His legal victory is likely to silence other victims of sexual assault in the future, undoing much of the hard-won progress of the #MeToo movement. Cosby has no valid claim to being a Central Lancer. The fact that the legal technicality he used to secure his release may be valid does nothing to change this.
Cosby is a man who was convicted of sexual assault. He is a man who admitted, under oath, to drugging and sexually assaulting women. Cosby is not, and never will be, a Central alum.
Jamie Davis Smith is an attorney and member of Central High School’s 252nd graduating class. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.