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University of North Carolina School of the Arts Settles Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

Brought by over 60 alumni of the school, the lawsuit has been settled for $12.5 million


The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) has settled a lawsuit brought by 65 former students, who will be paid a total of $12.5 million over four years, The New York Times reported

In the lawsuit filed in late 2021, dozens of alumni alleged widespread sexual and emotional abuse that they claimed took place on and off campus over the course of 40 years from the 1960s to the 2010s.

The NY Times stated that according to a statement from UNCSA, the University of North Carolina System will pay the claimants $10 million, and UNCSA will pay the remaining $2.5 million. 

UNCSA was the nation’s first public arts conservatory and opened in the 1960s and court papers show that the residential high school and college enrolled students as young as 12. The arts school was incorporated into the UNC System in 1972.

“When they [the alumni] were children and early teens, so many of them went to this school with the potential to do world-class things, whether it was the violin, or to dance or to sing,” said Bobby Jenkins of Lanier Law Group, which represents the 65 claimants. “In many cases, that potential was derailed by what happened to them.”

Some of the abuse allegations emerged publicly in a 1995 lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired, The NY Times added. At that time, the UNC Board of Governors formed an independent commission to review the allegations. When the new 2021 lawsuit was filed, UNCSA Chancellor Brian Cole stated in a letter that the commission's report had found “no widespread sexual misconduct” and “resulted in policy changes across the UNC System.”

The new lawsuit was filed under the terms of a look-back law in North Carolina that allowed adults who said they were victims of child sexual abuse to sue those they held responsible, even if the statute of limitations on their claims had expired.

According to Jenkins, the faculty mentioned in the lawsuit do not work or are not affiliated with the school anymore, or some have passed away. A professional allocator will decide how the funds will be divided among the survivors; the claimants will receive their first payment of the settlement in early September 2024. 

“The only way that we're going to be able to stem and to curtail child sexual abuse is if we hold accountable the perpetrators and the enabling institutions,” Jenkins told ABC11 News. “Because if you hold the institutions, 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.”

“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,” said Chancellor Cole 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.

“I am personally devastated that anyone on this campus would have experienced abuse, and commit to doing all that we can to continually bolster an environment of safety and trust at UNCSA. Since 2021, we have reviewed and strengthened our campus safeguards as well as the Title IX reporting and response processes.”

“Protecting the safety and well-being of our students is the university's first responsibility,” added UNC System President Peter Hans. “Any violation of that trust is painful, and even more so when victims must wait decades for recognition and a measure of justice. I admire the courage and determination of survivors in seeking to right past wrongs, and I am grateful to Chancellor Cole and his team for confronting this difficult chapter with compassion and integrity. The UNC School of the Arts is a wonderful institution that does enormous good for our state, and the commitment to acknowledge and make amends for past failings is exactly what we should want from our public institutions.”

“This resolution marks the end of a decades-long journey for these former UNCSA students,” said Lisa Lanier, the attorney for the claimants. “It takes tremendous courage to pursue claims borne of past trauma and it has been our privilege to represent them in this process to bring institutional accountability for the inexcusable conduct to which they were subjected. The university worked diligently with us to reach this settlement, acknowledging that it was time to make amends for the past.”

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