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  • Writer's pictureNathan Nicolau

Dear Chancellor Brian Cole...

Whenever you get a chance, go to UNCSA School of Filmmaking’s film village alone. Walk into Main Theater and take any seat. I prefer the middle towards the back because you can hear more clearly. Now, imagine a room full of students. They could be there for a required meeting, a class, or a weekend screening. Before the lights go off, imagine students’ voices all around you talking about a variety of things: how Crew was awful last weekend or how they can’t wait to eat at the Pickle Jar after class. But then you begin to hear the one thing that UNCSA is famous for: gossip. And it travels fast in a small school like this.

Imagine—for days, weeks, months, and even years—hearing story after story about other classmates, some you were very close with and some that you had only said probably six words to. By the end of a few weeks, you felt as though you’ve heard everyone’s dirty laundry, but it just keeps piling up. Some of it was harmless, like a funny story about a classmate throwing up in a Waffle House bathroom after a night of drinking. However, many were gravely serious, and I think you know what I’m alluding to.

If Main Theater’s walls could talk, they would give you nightmares. They would disgust you and make you question everything a college institution stood for. If Main Theater’s walls could talk, you would not have remarked that UNCSA has changed its tune about sexual assault since the 80s and 90s in a public announcement. From 2014 to 2018, I heard horror stories in Main Theater. I can assure you that nothing has changed, and I am bewildered that you would make such a comment.

I know that your stance did not come from blissful ignorance. You were the dean of the music school in 2016 when I was in my 2nd year. 2017 saw the birth of the #MeToo movement, one that I am sure you kept an eye on, as did the rest of campus. And you can tell UNCSA tried to care, hosting entire workshops, lectures, and “dialogues” on power dynamics in the art/entertainment industry. I am not sure if you have read my initial response to the lawsuit, but there is a typical pattern that the school does: acknowledge an ongoing issue in broad strokes, beat students over the head with “we hear you,” and then dust your hands off as if you contributed greatly. This is not action; this is virtue signaling, a common problem in art conservatories and the art industry. If UNCSA wishes to be “more than an art school,” then the first thing you can do as chancellor is simply admit that the school has problems; ones that I know you are aware of but won’t divulge when money, resources, and careers are on the line. Please swallow your pride. Ask yourself if the money, resources, and careers are worth the damaging repercussions from this lawsuit. If you love this school as you claim you do, then this should be common sense. Acknowledging faults is part of appreciating something and instilling change. Artists have to be on the cutting edge. Why can’t an arts conservatory be?

Here is what we have in common: we both love the idea of UNCSA. A professional, accredited arts conservatory that encourages artistic freedom is a dream come true for artists like me. But you cannot push this sunshine and rainbows narrative anymore. Look where it has landed you and the school. Look where it has landed me. The constant lying, abuse, and toxicity made me quit filmmaking, a dream I’d had since I was a kid. In other words, UNCSA crushed my dreams. But the school also made me a better person. I met wonderful people, and I became a more empathetic, mature person after I graduated. These were not for the right reasons, however. I had to be mature because everyone around me wasn’t. The lack of accountability and respect in both faculty and students was appalling, and I have been very frank in telling people about it, as you can tell.

Since I graduated in 2018, I’ve been keeping UNCSA behind me. I get embarrassed, ashamed even, to even mention I went there. I know this is not the reputation you want, and believe me when I say that there are many who feel the way I do. Since my initial blog post, many past, present, and future alumni have contacted me in support. I am not disgruntled. I am not vengeful. I want to make UNCSA a great place as much as you do, but making sweeping “we’ve changed” comments is irresponsible, damaging, and an outright lie.

So, before you make any further statements as this lawsuit unfolds, go to Main Theater as I did. In fact, I’m sure students are in there right now sharing more grievances. If you aren’t going to listen to students, at least lend an ear to the walls.

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