After a school administrative hearing, Florida A&M University has ruled it will award a master’s degree to one of its students, who was under investigation for allegedly breaking the student code of conduct when she posted images appearing nude in front of the school’s landmark.
The decision came after the school reviewed the case, and the student with her lawyers presented a case claiming the institution violated her first amendment right of expression by withholding the degree because of the flicks.
On Friday, Nov. 18, Terica Williams said she felt “amazing” and “overjoyed,” after her soon-to-be alma mater said it would confer a Master of Counselor Education diploma to the 24-year-old, after months of deliberation, according to NBC 6 Miami.
During the summer, after graduation, Williams took a series of photos and posted them on Instagram to celebrate completion of the degree.
In one post, she is photographed in a perfectly coiffed afro in an orange FAMU crew neck, a pair of bell-bottom jeans, and a pair of white peep-toe heels. In the caption, she lists her accomplishments, saying she served as a graduate assistant for faculty, was awarded a fellowship and was graduating with a 3.8 GPA.
In another post, she shared an image of her standing in front of the school mascot rattler statue, appearing to be naked and with medusa snake locs cascading over her backside. The young woman said the photograph was metaphoric of her “shedding like a snake into my new chapter.”
However, the school did not see it that way and withheld her degree, even after Williams participated in commencement activities. The institution moved to not confer the degree until officials investigated the appropriateness of the image.
According to Williams, “Their words were there would be a trial to decide if I violated any student code of conduct. I was a little shocked because I didn’t feel like I violated any rules.”
While FAMU never released a statement saying it would not confer the degree, according to an official statement from the university’s communications department, the institution did say it would be launching an investigation.
“Florida A&M University is aware of a post circulating on social media of a student photographed in front of the Rattler statue on campus,” FAMU communications noted, with Dr. William Hudson Jr., the vice president of Student Affairs, following up with, “The university is aware of the picture taken and is currently investigating the incident.”
David Kubiliun, one of the lawyers hired to represent Williams, said, “To me it was a complete violation of her First Amendment right of expression.”
He and his co-counsel Scott Egleston argued their client was not actually in the nude but was photographed in a nude-colored bodysuit.
“When she took that picture there was no one around the campus. So, it’s not like she disrupted school functions, which is what the school initially said,” Kubiliun said.
He added that the school’s police department had confirmed “that she was not in any violation of any Florida Statute.”
Between July and November, Williams has been documenting her administrative hearing with the school’s Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution. In addition to posting her journey to the trial, she also threatened to make the school feel her wrath.
“If I’m going down, three professors are going down with me,” Williams wrote on her Instagram stories.
“All I want is for my degree to be conferred,” she wrote. “I don’t want no problems with anyone.”
She also claimed the school was trying to penalize her for being free with her busty body.
“Anybody who knows me knows that I’ve been dressing provocative my whole life. There’s a lot of assumptions that have came with me accepting my body,” she wrote.
“A lot of people questioned my capabilities and intelligence solely based on how I choose to dress. As I’m standing here with my Masters Degree at the tender age of 24, I am the living proof that clothes do not define you. I encouraged everybody to embrace their bodies and step outside social norms.”
The trial date to determine if the school will give her the diploma was set for Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, at 10:30 a.m., and according to a document the student posted on social media, the panel was set to hear information concerning her allegedly demonstrating disruptive behavior and violating the law.
Williams said since graduating, she has tried to get internships with mental counseling facilities but without being able to show she has a master’s degree, she has been unsuccessful.
“I wasn’t able to move forward with the process because I did not have the degree to present,” Williams said.
Now she is able to move forward toward applying.
“I feel amazing, overjoyed,” she said about the decision.
FAMU’s legal and communication offices have not released statements regarding Williams’ degree.