After Phylicia Rashad tweeted in support of Bill Cosby’s release on Wednesday, Howard University — where Rashad was recently appointed as fine arts dean — denounced her words, saying they “lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault.”
Rashad, who played Cosby’s onscreen wife Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show,tweeted a photo of her former costar on Wednesday shortly after it was announced that his rape conviction was being overturned on a legal technicality.
“FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted,” Rashad tweeted. “A miscarriage of justice is corrected!”
In 2018, Cosby was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison and registered for life as a sex offender after he was found guilty of raping Andrea Constand in 2004.
More than 60 women have accused the once-beloved comedian of drugging and sexually assaulting them over the course of decades, including during the height of his career. Constand’s rape was the only one Cosby faced criminal repercussions for, largely because most of the allegations occurred too long ago to prosecute.
Rashad turned off replies to her Wednesday tweet but faced swift backlash regardless. A number of people expressed concern and anger that the defender of a many-times-accused serial rapist would serve in such a prestigious university role, considering the high national rates of campus sexual assault.
A few hours later, Rashad walked back her tweet but did not apologize.
“I fully support survivors of sexual assault coming forward,” Rashad said in a follow-up tweet. “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.”
Howard University disavowed Rashad’s words in a statement on Twitter late Wednesday night, but did not announce any action against her as a result of the incident.
“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 university added that “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,” they said. “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.”
The university and representatives for Rashad did not immediately respond to a request for further comment from BuzzFeed News.
This is not the first time Rashad — who in recent years has appeared in This Is Us, Grey’s Anatomy, and 13 Reasons Why — has defended her former costar.
In a 2015 interview with Showbiz411, she lambasted Cosby’s accusers and claimed it was all “orchestrated.” “Forget these women,” Rashad reportedly said. “What you’re seeing is the destruction of a legacy. And I think it’s orchestrated. I don’t know why or who’s doing it, but it’s the legacy. And it’s a legacy that is so important to the culture.”
In an interview with ABC News, Rashad later claimed she was misquoted, but reiterated her view that the focus should be on the dismantling of Cosby’s good name. (The Showbiz411 reporter denied misquoting Rashad, but acquiesced that her “forget these women” remark wasn’t intended “to be taken the way it was.”)
“That was a misquote. That is not what I said. What I said is, ‘This is not about the women. This is about something else. This is about the obliteration of legacy.’” Rashad said. “I am a woman. I would never say such a thing.”