FAMU student who posed in controversial photo on campus receives degree after monthslong delay
Terica Williams' photos included images of her standing in front of a statue of FAMU’s snake mascot wearing only a wig and heels.
A Florida A&M University student is receiving her master’s degree in counselor education seven months after the HBCU delayed its decision over her controversial graduation photos.
According to NBC 6 News, Terica Williams said she feels amazing and overjoyed about finally getting her degree, a suspension she said had previously halted the start of her career.
Williams, 24, says she believed the photo she took — shortly after taking part in the spring graduation ceremony at FAMU in Tallahassee — displayed her creative side. The photo went viral after she posted it on Instagram July 30. In her caption, she urged everyone to “embrace their bodies and step outside social norms.”
The New York Post reported that Williams’ Instagram post included images of her standing in front of a statue of the “Rattler,” FAMU’s snake mascot, wearing only a Medusa-inspired wig and Christian Louboutin heels.
“I took one next to the snake statute that represents me shedding like a snake into my new chapter,” Williams said, according to NBC 6.
“What was unique about that photo was that I appeared to be nude and I had snakes coming out of my head,” she noted.
Williams garnered criticism as she posted the image, in which she indeed looked like she was naked, on social media, prompting FAMU officials to launch an investigation.
Williams claimed that even though she had satisfied all the prerequisites, the institution informed her they would delay her master’s degree and conduct a trial to establish whether she had broken any student conduct policies.
Attorney David Kubiliun believes withholding Williams’ degree violated her First Amendment right of expression. He and fellow attorney Scott Egleston said despite her appearance, Williams wasn’t even naked when she took the photo: She was wearing 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 noted, according to NBC 6. “Secondly, that she violated a law, which was confirmed by the school’s police department that she was not in any violation of any Florida statute.”
Williams pleaded her case before a university board in September, and recently, FAMU ruled in her favor. She is anticipating her diploma’s arrival so she can show it to potential counseling firms after not being able to apply for months because she didn’t have it.
According to The Post, the university has since announced there would be 24/7 surveillance near the school statue to prevent students from taking nude graduation photos on campus.
In an Instagram post shared on Aug. 1, Williams continued to defend her photo and called out people who wanted the university to withhold her degree, referring to them as snakes.
“How the people from the highest of seven hills praying on my downfall?!” she wondered on IG. “My degree was earned, not given. They cannot take it away. If you want FAMU to withhold my degree, then you’re the real snakes.”
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