This week, many were surprised to learn that Bill Cosby, who was in the middle of serving a ten-year prison sentence for allegedly assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004, would be released from prison after having only served a little over two years. The news drew a myriad of responses from the public. The comedian’s former Cosby Show co-star, Phylicia Rashad, was among those who responded, as she took to Twitter to share a celebratory message. The post drew a massive amount of backlash, leading the actress and Howard University dean to walk back her statements in a separate tweet. Now, Rashad has apologized for her post in an open letter to the school’s students and parents.
Howard University alum Phylicia Rashad was named the dean of the school’s revitalized College of Fine Arts back in May. Following her tweet on Bill Cosby’s release, a number of Howard students and alumni took issue with her sentiments, with some calling for her dismissal. In her open letter (via CNN) to the student body and their parents, Rashad stated that she opposes sexual violence and understands the university’s policies on it:
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.
Phylicia Rashad also discussed how she hopes to rectify the situation in the coming weeks. In the letter, she also stated that she intends to “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.” She also mentioned that she has since removed “that upsetting tweet.”
After that tweet was posted, Howard University released a statement in which the school addressed Phylicia Rashad’s comments. While the school acknowledged her follow-up tweet, it noted that her initial tweet “lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault”:
Survivors of sexual assault will always be our priority. 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. Personal positions of University leadership do not reflect Howard University’s policies. 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 will live up to this sacred commitment.
Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction was overturned by Pennsylvania’s highest court on June 30. The ruling was made after it was discovered that Cosby made a deal with a former prosecutor, which prevented him from being charged in the case.
After news of the overturned conviction broke, a spokesperson for Bill Cosby released a statement, calling the development “amazing news” and thanking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. As of this writing, Cosby has yet to release a personal statement on the matter. We’ll keep you posted with any updates as they arrive.