After setting off a firestorm of controversy with a tweet supporting her former co-star and longtime friend, Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad—who was appointed dean of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University in May—has apologized in a letter to students and their parents for her words.
The celebratory tweet read: “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!”
Backlash from the public was swift including from former “Fresh Prince of Belair Actress” Janet Hubert, who 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! Get your umbrella sista, here comes the s**t shower.”
At Howard University, the controversy reached fever pitch as there were calls for the University to fire her as a hashtag #ByePhylicia began trending on social media
“Hold her ass accountable,” one student posted. “I’d take a non-famous dean who believes SA victims over a celebrity dean who does shit like this… Don’t get me wrong, I know she was his professor and all, but I don’t think she deserves to lead the Chadwick A. Boseman School of Fine Arts. Not anymore.”
In her letter to students, parents and fellow staff, the 73-year old actress wrote, “My remarks were in no way directed towards survivors of sexual assault.I vehemently oppose sexual violence, find no excuse for such behaviour, and I know that Howard University has a zero-tolerance policy toward interpersonal violence…
“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.”
She added that she would engage in “active listening” and participate in trainings to not only reinforce University protocol and conduct, but also to learn how to become a stronger ally to sexual assault survivors “and everyone who has suffered at the hands of an abuser.”
In the wake of the media uproar, Howard University issued their own statement citing that personal positions of University leadership did not reflect Howard University’s policies.
“Survivors of sexual assault will always be our priority,” it read. “While Dean Rashad has acknowledged in her follow-up tweet that victims must be heard and believed, her initial tweet lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault… We will continue to advocate for survivors fully and support their right to be heard. Howard will stand with survivors and challenge systems that would deny them justice. We have full confidence that our faculty and school leadership will live up to this sacred commitment.”
At press, it was not known if any further action would be taken by the university.