Arts school has rampant history of abuse, according to accusers.
For more than four decades, beginning in the 1960s, teachers and administrators at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (U.N.C.S.A.) sexually, emotionally and physically abused at least 56 minors, according to a new 236-page complaint. Past students of the school, located outside of Winston-Salem, said the teachers and staff members “participated in or allowed” the assaults, which included being fondled as well as being made to perform ballet nude.
The residential high school and college “recruited students as young as 12, to study ballet, modern dance, music and other disciplines on a campus that included summer programs,” according to the complaint.
“We were children, and we were brave enough to come forward and not one single adult that represented the institution was as brave as we were,” said Melissa Cummings, 42, who began to be invited to these parties in 1995. She reported the abuse to law enforcement and school officials when she was a senior in 1997 and claims nothing was done about it. “Your teenage years are so formative,” she said. “It destroyed me.”
The lawsuit seeks damages from 29 individuals, eight of whom are accused of having directly abused students. It also lists 19 former administrators who the plaintiffs have said “did nothing to stop a culture of exploitation.” Two dance instructors, Richard Kuch and Richard Gain, have been described as the most well-known abusers. They were given nicknames by the students – “Crotch” and “Groin,” according to court papers. The men allegedly invited students to a home, known as “The Farm,” where they were abused.
Some of the allegations had emerged publicly in a 1995 lawsuit brought by Christopher Soderlund, who is also a plaintiff in the current case. His lawsuit was ultimately dismissed. However, at that time, the U.N.C. Board of Governors formed a commission “to review and respond to the concerns vocalized,” and produced a report that found “no widespread sexual misconduct at U.N.C.S.A.”
“It’s a very hard thing to explain,” said Christopher Alloways-Ramsey, 53, one of the plaintiffs who has accused a ballet teacher, Duncan Noble, and others, of abusing him. “You’re 16 years old and you really desperately want a career in ballet. The person you idolize is telling you, ‘I can give you that.’ The underlying subtext is that there will be something in exchange. But as a young person, you don’t actually understand what that might be.”
“I was personally horrified when I was made aware of the allegations in the complaint,” Brian Cole, the chancellor of the School of the Arts, said. “I respect the tremendous courage it took for our alumni to come forward and share their experiences, and we are committed to responding with empathy and openness in listening to their stories.” He added that “U.N.C.S.A. today has systems in place for students to report abuse of any kind.”
“Sexual abuse and exploitation inflicted upon minor students at the school was not only known by students, faculty, staff and administrators at the school, but sadly was known among many of the members of the dance community nationwide,” said Gloria Allred, one of the attorneys representing the victims. “Our lawsuit against U.N.C.S.A. is an important example of a national trend. We are very proud of our clients for speaking truth to power and finding their courage to hold accountable those whom they believe have betrayed them.”