- Alabama School of Fine Arts
- ASFA Alumni
Alumni of Alabama School of Fine Arts
Welcome alumni of Alabama School of Fine Arts! As a graduate of ASFA, you are automatically a part of the ASFA Alumni Association. As alumni, you represent a remarkable collection of creative problem solvers linked by shared experiences and formative influences of ASFA.
Letter to the ASFA Community, March 25, 2022
Dear Alabama School of Fine Arts Community,
This letter to our community will summarize our recent investigation into past sexual misconduct by former faculty and staff. At the outset of this letter, the Alabama School of Fine Arts apologizes to the survivors, our former students. We have learned from their courage, and we recognize that their lives were profoundly affected by the trauma they experienced. At the end of the letter, we reflect on what ASFA is doing today to protect students.
Background Leading to the Investigation
During 2019 and into 2020, ASFA became aware of social media posts by alumni containing disturbing allegations of sexual misconduct by former faculty members. We first wrote to the community on July 2, 2020, to share with you our concern about these allegations, to let you know that we care deeply for every one of our alumni, and to establish that we wanted to take appropriate action.
A Task Force for Institutional Integrity was formed to decide what actions to take. The task force deliberated about how to address the allegations and arranged for seasoned and well-qualified experts to assist. The task force set very clear goals for ASFA’s response:
- Provide a process to our alumni that aimed for truth, reconciliation, and accountability for any sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, or inappropriate behavior in ASFA’s past.
- Keep survivors’ privacy and their wishes at the forefront of our process while being sensitive to any trauma they may have experienced.
- Report back to the community with as much transparency as possible, consistent with survivors’ preferences and/or any legal restrictions on reporting information obtained through the investigation.
- Use the information learned through the investigation to protect our current students better.
- Build or rebuild trust.
We found that public schools generally rely on other public agencies to investigate sexual misconduct and do not launch the type of independent investigation initiated more typically at private schools and arts institutions. We also determined, however, that we could only meet our goals for our community with an exceptional effort.
We arranged for private funding (ASFA did not use state funds or public money for the investigation) and an independent status for one of the most reputable investigative teams in the country— T&M USA LLC.
T&M is staffed with former prosecutors who have extensive experience with schools and arts institutions. Ms. Laura Kirschstein, Vice President for Sexual Misconduct Consulting and Investigations at T&M, served as our lead investigator. She is a former First Assistant Deputy Attorney General for the Organized Crime Task Force of the New York State Attorney General’s Office. Before that, she was a prosecutor specializing in sex crimes and child abuse for 13 years.
On March 19, 2021, we wrote our second letter to the ASFA Community announcing an independent investigation into historic educator misconduct at ASFA. The letter included Ms. Kirschstein’s name, a dedicated email address, and a dedicated call-in line. ASFA contacted 1,181 alumni and 603 current parents via email and mailed a letter to 3,111 alumni inviting them to contact Ms. Kirschstein.
The Investigation Process
T&M is careful to protect privacy and to avoid potential trauma or triggering. T&M relied on survivors who chose to call in to report past conduct. T&M found most of the witnesses interviewed to be credible. Indeed, T&M found witnesses to be generally forthright and careful in their recitations of what occurred. There was also no evidence to suggest that the witnesses who reported misconduct coordinated their statements with each other. Most witnesses had never had any interaction with one another.
Some former faculty and staff cooperated with the investigation. Others declined to be interviewed, did not respond to T&M, or are deceased. T&M attempted to contact former faculty implicated in the investigation who are still alive, but did not have the opportunity to interview them because they either declined through their legal counsel or did not respond.
During the investigation, Ms. Kirschstein and her team conducted 34 interviews, including 17 former students and 17 former and current employees. T&M reviewed personnel records, yearbooks, social media postings, and news media contemporaneous with reported activity. The investigation received reports that ranged from the year 1970 to 2016.
Definition of Terms
In preparing this letter for our community, we believe it is helpful and clarifying to share the definitions that were used by the task force to understand the reports we received from the investigation.
Sexual Misconduct: Sexual activity between former faculty or staff and a then-ASFA student. This includes but is not limited to sexual intercourse, physical touching of a sexual nature, and sexual advances.
Boundary Crossing: Behavior by faculty towards students, including inappropriate emotional or physical interactions, not necessarily of sexual misconduct, but inappropriate in the educational context.
Grooming: Manipulative and inappropriate behavior that can take the form of favoritism, or special treatment, or attention by a faculty member, similar to boundary crossing, but with the intent to establish sexual contact with a student.
Credible Report: A credible report is one that is believable but not necessarily corroborated by any other witness account, documentation, or other information.
Confidential: Private information that will not be disclosed. T&M promised all interviewed reporters confidentiality except for anything that would trigger a mandatory report on criminal behavior to the authorities— we will not reveal such information unless required by law enforcement.
Anonymous: The survivor or reporter has requested to keep their identity unknown to others, including any details that could reveal their identity to their peers or contemporaries in addition to the current community.
Finding: T&M made a finding when it established that a report was credible and able to be corroborated by other witness accounts, documentation, or other information, by using the preponderance of the evidence standard. This standard is often referred to as the “more likely than not” or “50.1% more likely” standard. For purposes of this investigation, a finding did not have to be made based on the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.
All findings refer to former students in grades 9 - 12 at the times of the incidents reported.
T&M reported two findings of sexual misconduct by one former member of the faculty and one finding of sexual misconduct by a former member of the staff that were credible and corroborated. T&M also reported two findings of boundary-crossing by two additional former faculty members that were credible and corroborated. These are not the only incidents reported, but they are the ones that met the definition of a finding. T&M reported one other report of sexual misconduct that was credible but not corroborated, and thus it did not reach the status of a finding.
The reporting survivors asked for anonymity in the findings related to sexual misconduct. For that reason, we are not disclosing identifying details of the incidents, and we will not reveal the names of the former faculty or staff implicated by the investigation.
The survivors were aware of our obligation to report these incidents to the appropriate legal authorities and supported our doing so.
Here is a summary of the three findings of sexual misconduct:
- A dance faculty member used grooming behaviors leading into sexual misconduct with two students, and, with one of those students, that conduct also extended past graduation and into adulthood. There is no information that any other adult on the faculty or staff was aware of the sexual misconduct at the time. As a result of the investigation, ASFA reported the incidents to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.
In addition, three alumnae reported that this same dance faculty member subjected them to serious boundary crossing behaviors.
The incidents reported took place during the period of the 1980s and 1990s and the faculty member is no longer employed by the school.
- A dormitory staff member engaged in grooming behaviors leading to sexual misconduct with a student under their care over a period of time. There is no information that any other adult on the faculty or staff was aware of the sexual misconduct at the time. As a result of the investigation, ASFA filed a report with the Jefferson County Department of Human Resources and made a report to the appropriate law enforcement agency. The employee was terminated by the school at the time for a matter unrelated to sexual misconduct.
The incidents reported took place for two years during the period of 1999 to 2005 and the staff member is no longer employed at the school.
Here is a summary of the two findings of boundary-crossing:
- A theatre arts faculty member engaged in overly familiar and inappropriate verbal and physical behavior with students. The faculty member made students feel uncomfortable across a number of instances. There is evidence that the counseling department and administration addressed some matters that they were aware of at the time with the faculty member.
The school terminated this faculty member during the 2010s for reasons not directly related to the behaviors reported.
- A substitute teacher in core academics engaged in overly familiar and inappropriate behavior with students off-campus. The administration apparently addressed the behavior with the students at the time, but it is unclear if they did so with the substitute teacher.
This substitute faculty member resigned before completing the term of substitution. The incident reported occurred during the early 2000s.
ASFA recognizes that boundary crossing is, in and of itself, a serious matter that, like outright sexual misconduct, can also contribute to a toxic environment and cause trauma for students who experience it.
What ASFA is Doing to Protect Students Today
Although the investigation did not garner reports of inappropriate conduct by any current faculty or staff, the safety and well-being of ASFA’s students are of utmost importance. ASFA is committed to implementing every precautionary measure to prevent instances of inappropriate conduct as those reported above from ever happening again. To that end, through the course of this investigation, ASFA has taken inventory of its policies and procedures. ASFA has the following safety measures in place to protect its students, which across the board are being improved and strengthened through this process:
- All faculty and staff are background-checked by the State of Alabama.
- ASFA has implemented more thorough training to faculty and staff on recognizing and reporting sexual misconduct, boundary-crossing, grooming, and sexual harassment, which will be conducted annually.
- The faculty and staff manual, student handbook, dormitory handbook, and policies on the appropriate use of touch in arts instruction have been reviewed by T&M and are being revised for adoption by the Board of Trustees. These policies will feature more robust reporting procedures and other guidelines to ensure that staff and student interactions remain safe and appropriate.
- ASFA continues to follow the protocol of mandatory reporting to the Jefferson County Department of Human Resources or to the appropriate law enforcement agencies and offers training to its faculty and staff on these requirements.
- We have nine staff in the Student Support Services department who are able to provide counseling and other emotional support services.
- Students are trained to recognize red flags for inappropriate interactions with adults (inside or outside the ASFA community) through the wellness program, ongoing counseling, and support sessions, as well as in school meetings. There are Social and Emotional Learning initiatives (SEL) led by the Student Support Services staff with the continuing awareness and help of the faculty.
- Resident Assistants in the dormitory are trained by the University of Alabama at Birmingham RA training program and will receive the same ongoing training as all faculty and staff.
After receiving the initial allegations referenced above, our primary goals were to understand our past, support our survivors, and ensure that we were doing everything we could to prevent instances of sexual misconduct in the future.
We offer our deepest apologies to the survivors who came forward during our investigation (and also to those who did not) for the harm you experienced. To our alumni community, we hope this investigation and its outcomes are major steps towards the final goal we listed above— build or rebuild trust.
Tim Mitchell, Ph.D.
Webb Robertson, Ph.D.
Chairman of the Board of Trustees
Letter to ASFA Community, March 19, 2021Dear Alabama School of Fine Arts Community,On July 2, 2020, we wrote to share with you that we became aware of social media posts containing upsetting allegations of sexual misconduct by faculty members during the 1980s and 1990s. The faculty members referenced in those allegations are no longer employed at our school. We immediately contacted the authorities and continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement. We admire and remain grateful for the courage of the individuals who shared their experiences on social media and offer our deepest regret that any former student suffered any mistreatment or abuse at Alabama School of Fine Arts.
Today, we are writing with news that T&M USA, LLC will be conducting an external third-party investigation into past incidents of sexual misconduct by any faculty or staff toward former students at our school. T&M has extensive experience conducting sexual misconduct investigations for K-12 schools and arts organizations all around the country.
We respectfully encourage anyone who experienced, or is aware of, any sexual misconduct by any faculty or staff member that occurred at ASFA, to please contact Laura Kirschstein at ASFA@tmusallc.com or by calling 646-445-7819. The identity of anyone who reports information will be handled as confidentially as the reporter wishes and will not be shared without the reporter’s consent except in situations where a report to authorities is mandated by law.
The safety and wellness of our students is our highest obligation. As we shared with you in July, our ongoing initiatives include:
- A Task Force for Institutional Integrity consisting of members of the ASFA Board and the administration team to review, revise, and update our policies concurrently with the investigation.
- Sexual health curriculum including sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual victimization, intervention, and reporting.
- Social and emotional learning curriculum through the AlaQuest Collaborative for Education.
- A Student Support Services Department that includes seven professionals, allowing for every student to be assigned a counselor who stays with him or her throughout his or her student career at ASFA.
- Faculty professional development, with a focus on training on healthy interactions with students.
- Background checks for faculty and staff conducted by the State of Alabama.
My door is always open if you would like to discuss our current policies and practices. We are committed to undertaking a thorough and deliberate investigation and plan to communicate with you once again when the investigation is complete. Although this will be a challenging time, we are committed to this investigative process for the benefit of past, present, and future ASFA students. We are thankful for your support and trust as we move forward together.
Warm regards,Dr. Tim MitchellPresident
ASFA Alumni SnapshotUsama Abbasi, Math-Science: graduated from Harvard Medical School, resident physician at Massachusetts General HospitalApril Adams, Creative Writing, M.D./Ph.D: Fellow and instructor Johns Hopkins School of MedicineKristina Adler, Theatre Arts: actress and producerHannah Aizenman, Creative Writing: The New Yorker Poetry CoordinatorAjiona Alexis, Theatre Arts: Film & television actress, Thirteen Reasons Why, Breaking In,Empire, AcrimonyAron Altmark, Theatre Arts: Lighting and production design Top 30 under 30 business owner and creative director of Visual EndeavorsAmari Ansari, Music: touring musician with bands including Stevie Wonder, St Paul & the Broken Bones, John Batiste, and Dee Dee BridgewaterThomas Bagwell, Music: Assistant conductor Metropolitan Opera and Washington National Opera, recitals with Marilyn Horner, Renee Fleming, Susan Graham and Denyce GravesTerry Beckham, Visual Arts: Exhibit Designer at Birmingham Museum of ArtHriday Bhambhvani, Math & Science: enrolled at Stanford University Medical SchoolShawn Black, Dance: American Ballet Theatre soloist, teacher, stagerEmma Bolden, Creative Writing: prize-winning author and Associate Editor-in-Chief at Tupelo QuarterlyJavacia Harris Bowser, Math & Science: entrepreneur, educator, and writerClint Craft, Math-Science: Vice-President at Goldman SachsClare Croft, Dance: dance historian and theorist, professor and authorSuzanne Collins, Theatre Arts: Author of The Hunger GamesLaverne Cox, Dance: Emmy-nominated actress and advocateCorey Dunlap, Visual Arts: MFA and gallery artistBlair Farley, Math-Science: Mechanical Engineer at Alabama Power, working on electric vehiclesMorgan Floyd, Math-Science: Graduate of UAB School of Dentistry, currently a General Dentistry Resident at Harvard School of Dental MedicineAdam Guthrie, Music: Custom guitar business ownerJennifer Hale, Theatre Arts: Voice actressMonica Haslip, Visual Arts: arts and technology education advocate, founder Little Black Pearl chosen by President Barack Obama, as 1 of 12 White House Champions of ChangeMoneer Helu, Graduated from University of CA at Berkeley, Mechanical Engineer & Researcher at the National Institute of Standards & TechnologySeraj Helu, Math-Science: Mechanical Engineer with Sub Sea Services in Stavangar, NorwayKate Taylor Hollingsworth, Music: Singer and musician in the band DeadfingersMartina Daonne Huff, Visual Arts: Gallery Coordinator, Rutgers UniversityBrad Jantz, Math-Science: Air Force Academy graduate, astronautical engineering, priest and graduate student at Pontifical Gregorian University in RomeAshley M. Jones, Creative Writing: Award-winning published poet and educatorChris Lawson, Creative Writing: artist, writer, filmmaker, National Gallery of Art, Saddlecreek records music videos and album artFong Lui, Math-Science: Gynecologic Oncologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical CenterRachel Mohler, Visual Arts : New York University MFA candidate in video game designJorge Nunez, Math & Science: NASA astrobiology institute, Planetary Scientist and Engineer, Deputy Systems Engineer on New HorizonsErica Oyama, Theatre Arts: Emmy-nominated producer and screenwriterJavan Patton, Dance: Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge, former Assistant City AttorneyCeleste Pfau, Visual Arts: interdisciplinary artist, Magic City Art Connection’s Emerging ArtistJim Pool, Music: attorney, Chair of Maynard Cooper’s Health Care and Charitable Foundations practice groupDaphne Powell, Creative Writing: Director of Donor Relations at Birmingham-Southern CollegeIndia Ramey, Dance: Singer/songwriter and named Rolling Stone’s 10 New Country Artists You Need to KnowHarsh Shah, Math-Science: graduate of Mayo Clinic College of Medicine & Science, currently at Stanford University for Ph.D in Regenerative MedicineRonald Sherrod, Math-Science: Worcester Polytechnic Institute graduate, Engineer at ExxonMobil CorporationPratik Talati, Math-Science, Graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine as a MD/PH.D, currently doing residency at Massachusetts General HospitalMaria Taylor, Dance: Singer/songwriterSh’Nese Townsend, Math-Science: Cancer Researcher at UABAzalea Vo, Math-Science: graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Computer Science, currently a Software Development Engineer at AmazonChip Williams, Music: a musical director and keyboardist Alabama Symphony OrchestraWillie Williams, Visual Arts: Gallery founder of Studio 2500Chuck Yates, Theatre Arts: award-winning artistic director and producer, theatre founder, screenwriter