Howard University Credit: Darrow Montgomery

There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.

Update, July 1, 8:50 a.m. Howard University provided the following statement regarding Rashad’s tweets and says it will not be commenting further.

“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 leadership will live up to this sacred commitment.”

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Shortly after news broke Wednesday that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction, his former Cosby Show co-star Phylicia Rashad tweeted a photo of Cosby with the caption: “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!”

A graduate of Howard University, Rashad has deep roots in D.C. and those roots are still growing. In May, Rashad was named dean of Howard’s reestablished College of Fine Arts, recently renamed after the late actor Chadwick Boseman. Her apparent support for Cosby has caused a major stir online and has left many wondering how Rashad, as a dean, will deal with students who have been sexually assaulted. 

“SO, since the Dean of @HowardU College of Fine Arts wants to tell all of her students that sexual assault doesn’t matter to her, y’all can donate to help survivors of sexual violence from Howard,” Nylah Burton, founder of the Black Survivors Healing Fund, tweeted in response. 

Burton established the fund via GoFundMe last June, after dozens of Howard students took to social media to share their experiences of sexual harassment and violence while attending the university. Her goal is to help ease the financial burden of sexual assault for current and former students who survived sexual violence during their time at Howard. 

By August, the Black Survivors Healing Fund, run by Burton and several other Howard alumni, had raised more than $26,000 of the $50,000 goal. According to Burton, the donations have slowed recently. That changed following Rashad’s now viral tweet. More than 40 new donations came in today, bringing the fund’s total to $42,025 as of press time. When we spoke last summer, the fund had already assisted 20 survivors, with another 20 on the waitlist.  

One person retweeted Burton, sharing: “Just donated. If you’re feeling similar to how I feel about BC and Phylicia, and have a few dollars to spare, I encourage you to donate as well.”

According to the Washington Post, Rashad’s work as dean will focus on teaching, modernizing the school’s curriculum, and expanding enrollment, among other areas.

Howard University has not yet responded to City Paper’s numerous requests for comment about Rashad; this story will be updated if and when HU responds. Last August, Howard University Provost Anthony Wutoh said in a statement to City Paper, the school “prohibits all forms of sexual misconduct and we are deeply concerned about the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of all students, especially during this challenging and turbulent period.” 

At the time, the communications office declined to say how many students reported sexual assaults per year. In 2019, however, the Metropolitan Police Department received 1,391 reports of adult sexual assault across the city, while another 258 individuals received sexual assault forensic exams without reporting to police. 

Three hours after her original tweet, Rashad sent a follow up: “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.”

Cosby was found guilty of the 2004 rape and drugging of Andrea Constand in 2018. He was sentenced to serve three to ten years in state prison. On Wednesday, he was released following the state supreme court’s decision that a prosecutor in the case violated Cosby’s due process rights.

Sixty women, according to USA Today, have come forward to accuse the actor of sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual misconduct over the years. Many share a story similar to Constand’s, claiming Cosby first drugged then raped them, oftentimes in his home. However, due to statute of limitations, many cases could not go to trial, so Constand’s win in court felt like a win for many of Cosby’s accusers and the #MeToo movement.

Donations to the Black Survivors Healing Fund can be made by visiting gofundme.com/f/black-survivors-healing-fund.