Over the last year, rich, powerful men across myriad industries — from Harvey Weinstein to Bill O’Reilly to President Donald Trump — have been accused of nonconsensual sexual contact, often after years of silencing their accusers.

To combat not only the horrific prevalence of sexual assault, but also the all-too-frequent complacency toward the continued abuse of power, we must hold accountable the powerful men who are able to continue preying on women because of their near-impunity.

At Georgetown University, this lesson does and should hit all too close to home with our glorification of former President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68), one of the university’s most prominent alumni and a frequent invitee to campus, who has repeatedly faced allegations of unwanted sexual encounters.

Next week, Georgetown’s Institute of Politics and Public Service will host a four-day symposium to reflect on Clinton’s legacy on the 25th anniversary of his 1992 election. The symposium will culminate with a keynote address by Clinton himself Nov. 6.

This symposium is intended to discuss the legacy of Clinton and his presidency. However, a complete consideration of that legacy must discuss the history of sexual assault allegations against him. Moreover, especially given our current climate, we must take advantage of this opportunity to discuss the broader issue of powerful men abusing their positions.

It is detrimental for us as a community to deify Clinton and, in doing so, turn a blind eye to his history of alleged sexual misconduct. It is also starkly hypocritical given the firm commitments to combating sexual assault by both the administration and student groups, including the Georgetown University Student Association and advocacy groups such as Take Back the Night, which fights against gendered violence.

Clinton has been accused of unwanted sexual encounters by three women. He has never been found guilty on charges stemming from these allegations.

In 1994, Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee, accused Clinton of propositioning her and exposing himself to her in 1991 while he was governor of Arkansas. Jones was the only accuser to file a sexual harassment suit, which Clinton eventually settled for $850,000. In 1998, Kathleen Willey, a former White House volunteer aide, accused Clinton of groping her without consent in 1993, during his presidency. Though inconsistencies in her account have surfaced, she has continued to share her narrative.

In 1999, Juanita Broaddrick accused Clinton of raping her in 1978 while he was Arkansas attorney general. Though she initially denied under oath any incidents of nonconsensual sexual contact, she later recanted this denial.

Our national habit of sweeping these allegations under the rug when discussing Clinton’s legacy reaffirms a culture in which powerful men evade consequences for their repeated infractions and can thus maintain positions of power that allow them to invalidate their accusers’ narratives.

The symposium has panels planned to cover Clinton’s “vison of America” and “vision of leadership and service,” but appears to have no spaces in which this vital aspect of his legacy  — the allegations of his sexual assault that rocked the national psyche during his presidency — can be fully acknowledged or discussed.

Clinton’s return to campus Nov. 6 should be an impetus for all of us to engage in frank discussion about sexual assault and the power dynamics that allow this problem to be pervasive.

A willingness on the part of the Georgetown community to fully and critically examine Clinton’s legacy — even when this process is awkward and painfully difficult — would authentically demonstrate a recognition of our university’s shortcomings in its treatment of sexual misconduct, and would be a powerful signal of our commitment to combatting sexual assault.

We should all seek to create spaces in which we can reconcile our campus’ admiration of Clinton with the allegations against him and with the impunity of the powerful that he represents. Whether through programming in the symposium itself or town hall discussions organized by student groups, we must commit ourselves to facing the reality of these allegations.

It is unrealistic to believe the university would disassociate itself from Clinton, a highly admired public figure and perhaps our most famous alumnus, and this editorial board does not expect the university to do so. Yet, we must not use this fact as an excuse to blatantly overlook Clinton’s history of sexual assault allegations when discussing his legacy. If we do, we are complicit in this culture of complacency.

One Comment

  1. Yeah, but Bill is a Democrat, so he’s not actually a rapist and those women were probably dressed proactively or something.

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