Howard University said the dean of its arts school, the actor and director Phylicia Rashad, “lacked sensitivity” in her elated response to her former TV co-star Bill Cosby’s release from prison.
Pennsylvania’s supreme court overturned Cosby’s sexual assault conviction on Wednesday and he was freed shortly afterwards, a decision based on a legal technicality, to the fury of many women who allege he abused them, and victims’ advocates.
Rashad, who played Cosby’s wife Clair Huxtable on the Cosby Show, tweeted: “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted – a miscarriage of justice is corrected!” in response. The tweet was immediately met with criticism and has since been deleted.
More than 60 women have accused Cosby of sexual assault or misconduct. Andrea Constand’s case against him was prosecuted but the conviction was overturned because a prosecutor in 2005 had said Cosby would not be charged.
Hours after posting her first reaction, Rashad tweeted: “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.”
On Thursday, Rashad started her job as the dean of the Chadwick A Boseman College of Fine Arts at Howard University, the elite, historically Black private school in Washington DC. The university condemned her response in a statement late on Wednesday.
“Survivors of sexual assault will always be our priority,” the statement said. “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.”
The school described her post as a personal position that did not reflect the school’s policies. “We will continue to advocate for survivors fully and support their right to be heard,” the university said.
Like many universities, Howard has been criticized for its response to sexual assault. In 2017, six women filed suit against the university alleging administrators had been slow to respond or ignored their reports of sexual assault.