Phylicia Rashad has found herself embroiled in controversy after expressing public support for Bill Cosby’s release from prison and then sending a follow up letter to the Howard University community extensively apologizing for her comments.
Rashad, who has been dean of the College of Fine Arts at the university since May, played Cosby’s wife for years on the family sitcom The Cosby Show. She was named dean of the college with great fanfare this year.
It remains to be seen whether Rashad’s position at Howard is in jeopardy, but the university quickly distanced itself from her comments.
Phylicia Rashad was condemned by students at Howard University in Washington DC – where she is a dean – over a tweet supporting the release of Bill Cosby
Rahsad sent this tweet after Cosby was released Wednesday – and condemnation soon followed
Phylicia Rashad apologized for her earlier Bill Cosby tweet in letter to Howard University families promising to become ‘stronger ally’
On Friday, she sent a letter apologizing.
‘I am sorry. I intend to earn your trust and your forgiveness,’ Rashad wrote.
‘My remarks were in no way directed towards survivors of sexual assault. I vehemently oppose sexual violence and find no excuse for such behavior.
‘Over the next few weeks, I plan to engage in active listening and participate in trainings to not only reinforce University protocol and conduct, but also to learn how I can become a stronger ally to sexual assault survivors and everyone who has suffered at the hands of an abuser.’
Rashad said she plans to spend the next few weeks engaging in ‘active listening’ and participating in ‘trainings’ to help her better reflect Howard’s ‘protocol and conduct’ in the future, and become a ‘stronger ally to sexual assault survivors.
Rashad deleted the offending tweet, and issued this apology before writing a letter to Howard University where she is Dean of the College of Fine Arts
Howard also shared a statement disavowing its dean’s words – but did not say if she would be disciplined
Some of the harshest critics called for Rashad to be removed from her post, saying her apparent indifference to serial sexual assault allegations made her unfit for a position of authority over students.
Rashad’s support for Cosby is not new. She had publicly defended him during his years-long legal battles. But the rise of the #Metoo movement and her new position at a prominent educational institution have contributed to the intense backlash as Cosby went free.
Cosby was released from prison Wednesday after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his sexual assault conviction, ruling that Cosby’s agreement with the previous district attorney in 2005 should have prevented him from being charged in the 2018 case.
After the ruling, Rashad tweeted a picture of Cosby, with the message: ‘FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted – a miscarriage of justice is corrected!’
The tweet drew an immediate online response with a few expressing support but many others attacking Rashad for defending a man accused of drugging and raping multiple women over a period of decades.
Rashad is pictured in the blue dress alongside Bill Cosby in hit sitcom The Cosby Show, which ran from 1984 to 1992
There were few supporters on Twitter who shared Rashad’s sentiments
Hours after her tweet Wednesday, Rashad sent out a clarification, stating her sympathy for all survivors of sexual assault but not mentioning Cosby or his case.
‘I fully support survivors of sexual assault coming forward. My post was in no way intended to be insensitive to their truth,’ she wrote. ‘Personally, I know from friends and family that such abuse has lifelong residual effects. My heartfelt wish is for healing.’
In a statement, Howard acknowledged Rashad’s clarification and said her initial tweet ‘lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault. Personal positions of University leadership do not reflect Howard University’s policies. We will continue to advocate for survivors fully and advocate their right to be heard.’
Rashad is a prominent Howard alumnus, and her appointment as fine arts dean was hailed as a homecoming, with Howard Provost Anthony K. Wutoh stating that her ‘passion for the arts and student success makes her a perfect fit for this role.’
Cosby, 83, had served nearly three years of a three-to-10-year sentence for drugging and violating Temple University sports administrator Andrea Constand in 2004. After his release, he tweeted that he has always maintained his innocence and thanked his fans, supporters and friends who stood by him.
Cosby, 83, was released from prison in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, two years into his 10 year sentence after having his sexual assault conviction overturned
Phylicia Rashad’s letter to Howard University
Dear Students and Parents,
This week, I tweeted a statement that caused so much hurt in so many people — both broadly and inside the Howard community.
I offer my most sincere apology. I have since removed that upsetting tweet.
I am sorry. I intend to earn your trust and your forgiveness.
My remarks were in no way directed towards survivors of sexual assault. I vehemently oppose sexual violence, find no excuse for such behavior, and I know that Howard university has a zero-tolerance policy toward interpersonal violence.
The most important role I have ever played in my life is that of mother to my children, who have taught me to live a life that nourishes, protects and encourages others. Though they are adults now, I still feel the primal instinct to protect them. This is the same feeling that hold for Howard University and each of her students. As a dean in this revered and beloved institution, I am committed to this.
Over the next few weeks, I plan to engage in active listening and participate in trainings to not only reinforce University protocol and conduct, but also to learn how I can become a stronger ally to sexual assault survivors and everyone who has suffered at the hands of an abuser.
Thank you for voicing your concerns, for speaking your truth and for holding leaders accountable for our actions and words.
Excellence in Truth and Service,
Dean of the College of Fine Arts