Rachael Kirkconnell says she felt pressure to “stay silent” as the world openly debated her controversial college photos from an antebellum-themed party.
“I had a lot of people in my ear saying, ‘You’ll have your time. Don’t make it worse. You’ll have your time to speak. We’ll give you a platform. Just wait it out,’” The former “Bachelor” contestant told “From Privilege to Progress” hosts Michelle Saahene and Melissa DePino on Monday. “I felt pressure to just keep it all in, to wait, to stay silent.”
But as the controversy unfolded, Kirkconnell — who won the final rose from the first black bachelor, Matt James, in Season 25 — realized that she had to speak out and apologize for her actions.
“I finally decided to put that statement out and then obviously that wasn’t enough because it’s not actually a conversation,” the 24-year-old said during the hosts’ “Unscripted Live.” “Anyone could have written that statement, which a lot of people had thought. I didn’t even have any sort of representation at that point. People were like, ‘Wow, her publicist did great with this.’ That’s when I was like, it’s not enough.”
ABC did not immediately return our request for comment.
Kirkconnell was accused of racist behavior in February — while James’ season was airing — after old photos surfaced of her attending an antebellum-themed party in college. Critics pointed out the racist undertones of the Old South celebration, likening the event to a celebration of slavery. Not only was Kirkconnell lambasted over the photos, but “Bachelor” host Chris Harrison was ousted from the ABC franchise for defending Kirkconnell.
During her new interview, she also confirmed that the controversy is what caused her and Matt James to breakup initially.
“That was our breaking point at that point for both of us and that’s when we had split up right towards the end of February and that same week, I was like I have nothing left to lose at this point so that’s when I just decided to post an IGTV of me just speaking,” Kirkconnell said, adding, “I have to get my voice out there and put my face out there.”
She continued, “That dress and the history of that formal was racist and I was completely ignorant to that and I needed to be held accountable for that.”
Kirkconnell, who has since gotten back together with James, said that while she is truly sorry, she understands that not everyone will accept her apology.
“I wanted to apologize and for some people, that won’t be enough and I completely understand that,” she said. “People are more than entitled not to forgive me, but that was my rock bottom. I had lost everything.”
Fortunately, Kirkconnell was able to learn from her mistakes and wants to use her platform to make a difference.
“I’ve learned so much and I try to tell myself, you do have this platform and you could make a difference,” she said. “I have a platform to pave the way for people to find those resources. I have a platform to amplify those resources.”