Rachael Kirkconnell 'Dropped Out' of College Greek Life After She Learned Formal Was 'Racist'

"Between that and just a lot of other things about Greek life, I was like, 'I don't want to be part of this anymore.' So I dropped out after that," the Bachelor contestant said

Rachael Kirkconnell is still learning to hold herself accountable.

The former Bachelor contestant, 24, came under fire earlier this year when her past racially insensitive behavior resurfaced through online photos while the ABC show was airing. During an Instagram Live with From Privilege to Progress on Monday, Kirkconnell — who initially apologized for her actions in February — explained how she came to understand why attending an Antebellum plantation-themed fraternity formal in 2018 was problematic.

Though Kirkconnell admitted it was "so hard" to relive the moment in the public eye, and she was uncertain about how she should go about handling the backlash, she said her journey to understanding the problematic nature of the college event began "years ago" when she had a conversation with a family friend.

"I'm, like, so ashamed that I basically participated in that unknowingly because I'm sitting here in my own little privileged, selfish world just thinking like, 'Oh, we just put dresses on to go take a photo opp,' you know? It was nothing more than, like, an Instagram opportunity," she said. "And like, how terrible is that?"

Kirkconnell said she was "mindblown" when she learned the real history behind the formal's theme.

"I didn't think anything about it because it didn't affect me personally, you know. And so, when I first learned that it was [racist], I was really ashamed that I unknowingly participated in that and basically continued that tradition," she said.

"Between that and just a lot of other things about Greek life, I was like, 'I don't want to be part of this anymore.' So I dropped out after that," she continued. "And I guess that's the first time my eyes opened [up] about, okay like, there's a difference between being not racist and anti-racist."

Kirkconnell discovered that "there are layers" to being racist, in which you can be "overtly openly racist" or you can have "implicit bias and these racial tendencies within you that you don't even know about, or you can be racially ignorant."

The reality star realized she needed to "do more than just not be racist," particularly after the movement surrounding the death of George Floyd — a man who died in May 2020 after ex-police officer Derek Chauvin pinned him to the ground with a knee to his neck for about nine minutes.

Rachael Kirkconnell
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Kirkconnell admitted that she struggled with trying to make sure her growth didn't come off as "performative" as she strove to be an "ally." Still, she "didn't try to make excuses for [herself] because there are none."

"The history of that formal was racist, and I was completely ignorant to that and I needed to be held accountable for that. And so, I completely understood that," she said. "And I knew I had to apologize. I wanted to apologize. Not that I had to, but I wanted to. And I get that, of course, for some people that will never be enough, and I completely understand that."

In the wake of the controversy, Kirkconnell has worked to find "normalcy" in her life, especially in her relationship with former Bachelor Matt James. She is also focused on continuing to find growth.

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"I try and look at it in a positive way by thinking like, 'I would do it all over again if I had to or if I could' because, you know, Matt and I are in a great place now and I've grown so much from the entire experience," she continued. "I've learned so much and I try and tell myself, 'Well, you do have this platform now that you can make a difference with.'"

Though James, the franchise's first Black Bachelor, chose to be with Kirkconnell at the end of his Bachelor journey, the pair briefly split as he wanted to allow Kirkconnell "to put in that work." James, 28, then confirmed to PEOPLE in April that he was "pursuing" a relationship with Kirkconnell again.

Recently, Kirkconnell admitted that "it was a bit of a journey" to get to where the couple is today.

"I think we're in a really good place," she told Extra. "We've had a lot of love come our way, but I like to think that even though people have been super, super nice, we just like to focus on each other and put all of that aside and let that outside noise stay a little more quiet these days. So it's been good though, we've been good."

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