September 22, 2020
The board of trustees of the Curtis Institute of Music today received, reviewed, and unanimously accepted the findings of the investigative report concerning allegations of abuse past and present, most notably including the report of sexual abuse raised by Curtis alumna Lara St. John.
The report was prepared by attorneys Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez, nationally-renowned former child abuse and sex crimes prosecutors who founded the nation’s first practice dedicated to improving institutional responses to sexual and gender-based harassment, violence, and other forms of abuse, discrimination, or harassment. It includes information from interviews with approximately 30 individuals, including Curtis alumni, former and current Curtis faculty members, board members, administrators, employees, and others. As promised by Curtis President and CEO Roberto Díaz, the report is made public today as written, with no edits or revisions made by the board or anyone else at Curtis.
Although it acknowledges that Curtis has many safeguards currently in place that are designed to protect its students, the report raises troubling questions about the institution’s past in keeping students safe from harm.
It includes a credible account from Ms. St. John detailing horrifying accounts of rape and repeated sexual abuse that she suffered at the hands of her major instrument teacher, Jascha Brodsky, during the 1985–86 school year when Ms. St. John was 14 years old. The report also details approximately two dozen accounts of inappropriate conduct at Curtis received from former students and others dating back more than half a century. Many of these accounts sounded a recurrent theme: a reluctance to report abuse driven by the perception that “students remained at Curtis at the discretion of their major instrument teacher,” (see page 3 of the report) which created an unhealthy climate and had a chilling effect on reporting misconduct because of the “real threat that one could be dismissed for any reason at any time” (see page 32 of the report).
Most of these accounts focus on events and practices that occurred more than 20 years ago, and over the last decade Curtis has instituted a range of policies and procedures to protect students from abuse and sexual misconduct. That does not diminish the impact of these incidents on the former students and alumni who participated in this review and candidly shared their experiences. We offer our profound apologies to these former students and alumni and our gratitude for their willingness to help us better understand our past. In acknowledging and owning the past, the board today also reaffirms the school’s commitment to the health and safety of Curtis students as essential elements in the creation of a safe and welcoming campus environment for all members of the Curtis community.
The board recognizes and profoundly regrets the incalculable physical and emotional toll that Ms. St. John suffered as a result of her Curtis experience. As the report makes clear, at multiple points along the road of her harrowing journey, Ms. St. John provided opportunities for Curtis and its leaders to respond meaningfully and provide her with support and a chance to aid in her healing. But in each instance the school fell short in its attempts to respond to her concerns and instead reinforced the perception that it did not care about what happened to her.
Earlier today, Roberto Díaz and Board Chair Deborah M. Fretz expressed their sincere apologies on behalf of Curtis to Ms. St. John for the way in which she was treated by the school and those leaders in whom she confided, and specifically for failing to provide any opportunity to help her cope with and recover from the abuse inflicted upon her or the school’s continued dismissal of her concerns.
We were wrong, and we express publicly our sincere apology to Lara St. John for the way she was treated by Curtis for the past 34 years. We failed to provide her with a safe learning environment, failed to carefully investigate her claims, failed to communicate our grave disappointment in how she was treated by Curtis, and repeatedly failed to communicate the steps that were taken to prevent such abuse from occurring in the future.
None of this should have happened to Ms. St. John, and we are profoundly sorry that it did. We are in awe of her courage and spirit, which led to a long-overdue public reckoning about the pain and suffering that she and others endured over a number of decades. For this reckoning, we owe Ms. St. John a debt of thanks, along with the public recognition that as a direct result of her coming forward, Curtis today is far better equipped to protect students against sexual abuse or misconduct.
We also take this opportunity to publicly thank reporters Tricia Nadolny and Peter Dobrin and the Philadelphia Inquirer for shining a light on Ms. St. John’s account and prompting the comprehensive inquiry that has led Curtis to implement a wide range of new policies and procedures as part of the school’s continuing commitment to the safety and welfare of its students.
Apologies alone are not enough, however, and in accepting the findings of the report, the board and the administration, under President Díaz’s leadership, also announce the following steps that have been or will be implemented going forward:
In addition, as President Díaz promised at the outset of the external review by Ms. Gomez and Ms. Smith, we are making the full report publicly available.
We recognize that there may be other individuals whose experiences are not captured in this report and understand that its release may prompt other Curtis students or alumni to come forward to share their accounts. We welcome the opportunity to hear the experiences of impacted community members, either directly or through Cozen O’Connor’s reporting website, which remains open for those who may wish to share information anonymously. Understanding the experiences of our students and alumni is critical to informing our current and ongoing efforts.
With our actions today we demonstrate Curtis’s ongoing commitment to protecting the health and safety of all who inhabit our campus, but most particularly the gifted young musicians who comprise our student body. This has been a painful journey for all involved, but most especially for Lara St. John and all other students who experienced abuse at Curtis. We sincerely regret the pain that they have endured, and we are determined to learn from it in creating a safe and welcoming campus experience for all those we are privileged to serve.