WASHINGTON, D.C. (WJZ) — Actress Phylicia Rashad, who was appointed dean of Howard University’s College of Fine Arts in May, is under fire after praising Bill Cosby’s release from prison Wednesday when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his 2018 sexual assault conviction.
Rashad, 73, known for her role as Cosby’s wife Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show”, tweeted “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!” The tweet since has been deleted.READ MORE: Bill Cosby Freed From Prison After Sexual Assault Conviction Overturned By Pennsylvania Supreme Court
The heavy social media backlash from the tweet prompted Howard University, a historically Black university that touts itself as research-intensive and culturally diverse, to release a statement on Rashad’s comments.
“Survivors of sexual assault will always be our priority. While Dean Rashad acknowledged in her follow-up tweet that victims must be heard and believed, her initial tweet lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault,” the school said. “Personal positions of University leadership do not reflect Howard University’s policies.”
— Howard University (@HowardU) July 1, 2021
Backlash soon followed Cosby’s former costar after her initial tweet, with prominent Black figures and alumni calling out Rashad and the university.
Janet Louise, the original Vivian Banks on the sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” tweeted, “Phylicia what are you thinking!!! I don’t know you but to say this was terribly wrong. EVERYONE knew what he was doing back then. How could you NOT!”
Howard University College of Fine Arts alum and sexual assault survivor Alicia Sanchez said, “I hope we can have a dean who believes & respects survivors.”
As a @HowardU School of Fine Arts alum, and as a survivor, this tweet from @PhyliciaRashad is disappointing. I hope we can have a dean who believes & respects survivors. Howards students who are survivors, I believe you & here are resources: https://t.co/AedmHaOPxN #HUStands https://t.co/qD4doAncIT
— a Black-passing openly Black Latina. (@aliciasanchez) June 30, 2021READ MORE: Bill Cosby’s Elkins Park Neighbors Have Mixed Feelings As He Returns Home Following Overturned Conviction
Rashad soon sent a follow-up statement giving her full support to sexual assault survivors and an explanation of her original post. “Personally, I know from friends and family that such abuse has lifelong residual effects,” she tweeted. “My heartfelt wish is for healing.”
I fully support survivors of sexual assault coming forward. My post was in no way intended to be insensitive to their truth. Personally, I know from friends and family that such abuse has lifelong residual effects. My heartfelt wish is for healing.
— Phylicia Rashad (@PhyliciaRashad) June 30, 2021
Still, some activists and social media users are upset with the dean’s support of Cosby and Howard’s statement.
Antirape activist Wagatwe Wanjuki said in a tweet Thursday, “It’s easy for schools to release statements, but campus survivors know school’s actions never match their words.”
It's easy for schools to release statements, but campus survivors know school's actions never match their words. https://t.co/EaXc31AxO7
— Wagatwe Wanjuki 🇰🇪 🇧🇸 (@wagatwe) July 1, 2021
After Rashad’s appointment, the university also announced its reestablished College of Fine Arts will be named after alumnus Chadwick Boseman. The late actor, who graduated in 2000, had protested against the reabsorption of the college into the broader College of Arts and Sciences while he was a student and continued to advocate for its reestablishment long after he left the campus.