UNC School of the Arts Settles Lawsuit on Decades-Long Sexual Abuse

Published: May 23, 2024

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The University of North Carolina School of the Arts has settled a lawsuit with dozens of alumni who accused former officials of allowing faculty to sexually abuse students for nearly five decades.

The school has agreed to pay $12.5 million over four years to the 65 victims, WRAL reports. The UNC system will cover $10 million of the settlement costs and the school will pay the remaining $2.5 million.

According to the 2021 lawsuit, from the late 1960s through at least 2012, students as young as 12 years old were abused, harassed, and exploited during their time boarded at the school. Administrators and faculty turned a “willful blind eye” as teachers invited students to their homes and served them alcohol. The suit also says there was “subtle grooming of young female dancers for later sexual abuse and exploitation.”

Attorney Bobby Jenkins, who represents the survivors, said staff named in the lawsuit no longer work for the school or have died.

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“The only way that we’re going to be able to stem and curtail child sexual abuse is if we hold accountable the perpetrators and the enabling institutions,” he told ABC 11. “Because if you hold the child-serving institutions accountable, then they will start to exercise more due diligence. They will start to have better policies and better procedures that will raise their awareness of what they need to be looking for and what the warning signs are.”

Many of the victims did not realize they were abused until the statute of limitation had passed. However, in 2019, North Carolina passed the SAFE Child Act which granted a two-year window for anyone who was sexually abused as a child to file a claim.

“Though this resolution cannot heal the wounds of the past, it is my deep hope that through it, the survivors who came forward feel our commitment to listening, acknowledging and doing right by them,” UNCSA Chancellor Brian Cole wrote in a statement. “This has without a doubt been a dark time for UNCSA as we came to terms with accounts of sexual abuse, and we honor the courage it took for these alumni to share their experiences. It has always been our intent to do what we can to reconcile with the past in a manner consistent with our values, and with compassion and empathy for survivors.”

An outside allocator will decide how the funds are divided among the victims. They will receive their first payment in early September.

The UNC School of the Arts, which opened in 1963, is one of the top art schools in the country. The school grants high school diplomas and undergraduate and graduate degrees.

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