Victims sue UNC art school for sexual abuse
Seven former students sued North Carolina’s most prestigious arts school, accusing executives of ignoring evidence that professors and other adults on campus sexually assaulted them while they were students minors.
The former students, each of whom studied dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in the 1980s, have listed allegations against teachers, including inappropriate comments and touching in class, as well as violent sexual assault off campus.
UNCSA opened in 1965 as the country’s first public art conservatory, housing both high school and university students. Considered by many to be a gem of the University of North Carolina system, its founders envisioned a living room-like utopia, where artists would pass their skills on to young artists. About 1,250 students are enrolled today.
The alumni lawsuit says some teachers, including Richard Kuch and Richard Gain, routinely touched students’ breasts, buttocks and groins to push them into a straighter posture or higher jumps. They and another dance teacher, the late Duncan Noble, are accused of inviting underage students to their off-campus homes and sexually assaulting them, in one case leaving a student with bruises and bite marks on his chest .
A former student said Kuch demanded that she dance more sexually. He said she needed to have sex with a black man to relax and forced a black classmate to dance provocatively with her in front of their peers.
The lawsuit also lists a series of sordid stories from other departments in the school.
They include “Freshman Friday,” when a dean in the drama department called first-year boys into his office to stroke them, saying erections indicated which ones might be successful in the field.
Graduate film students have hunted 13-year-old girls for sex, calling themselves “vagina hunters.”
The former students requested that the lawsuit be certified as a class action suit, allowing other former students to join the case.
The school “has willfully turned a blind eye to the blatant conduct suffered by so many students at the school,” they say in the file.
Echoes of the past
The UNCSA has already faced similar accusations.
In 1995, one of the plaintiffs in the most recent trial attempted to sue alone.
Christopher Soderlund said Kuch and Gain sexually assaulted him after he enrolled in 1983, relying on the student’s desire for mentorship to silence him. Their relationship was common knowledge among students and faculty, he said, but no one told him it was wrong. When he complained to ballet teacher Duncan Noble, in fact, the man said he too would have liked to have sex with Soderlund, he claimed in his lawsuit.
As news of the 1995 trial spread, North Carolina newspapers uncovered evidence of earlier complaints. The Winston-Salem Journal that year reported that since 1990 teachers and students had spoken to administrators about sexual abuse in the school.
The Greensboro News & Record interviewed a professor who said he warned then Vice Chancellor William Pruitt that dance teachers across the country were refusing to send male students to UNCSA, citing stories that Kuch and Gain were predators.
Kuch and Gain resigned from the school ahead of their scheduled disciplinary hearing, and the UNC system’s board established a commission to investigate the extent of sexual abuse on campus, pledging to crack down on any irregularities.
The commission asked students and alumni to report faculty who had been sexually harassed or had sex with students, and documented the allegations from every department on campus. But he never publicly named the accused professors.
“We find no factual basis for the oft-repeated assertion that there has been a pervasive pattern or history of various types of inappropriate sexual conduct between faculty members and students of the school,” it reads. in the final report. “However, there is evidence that a few employees at various times, particularly during the 1980s, engaged in behavior that is not tolerable and should not be allowed to occur in the future. “
The commission recommended that the school issue new policies to address its issues, and the leaders agreed. The school now prohibits any relationship between teachers and students and is committed to protecting students from retaliation if they report abuse. A school spokeswoman declined to comment on the trial.
Along with the school itself, the lawsuit names several former faculty members and officials as accused: Chancellor Jane Elizabeth Milley, Dean of Music Larry Alan Smith, High School Chancellor Peggy Dodson, Dean of General Studies William Tribby, Dean of Modern Dance Dianne Markham, Dean of the Alan Rust and Gain Theater. Many of the people who ran the school when the plaintiffs were students have retired or have died.
Window to continue
Soderlund had said in his first trial that abuse was so common that he didn’t recognize his experiences as traumatic until his mid-twenties. At the time, survivors of childhood sexual abuse only had until the age of 21 to prosecute abusers or organizations that failed to protect them, so state courts quickly dismissed his lawsuits.
North Carolina lawmakers recently changed this limit. A provision in the SAFE Child Act of 2019 created a two-year window, which ends in December, for people previously considered too old to file a complaint in civil court.
This has enabled Gloria Allred and Lisa Lanier, both prominent personal injury lawyers, to represent plaintiffs who are now in their fifties.
Lanier’s Raleigh firm has already filed a few cases using the window, none of which has reached the trial stage. Allred has worked on gender discrimination and women’s rights cases across the country, representing women who have accused celebrities such as Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly.
This story was originally published October 1, 2021 5:44 pm.