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Two women say Philly’s most venerable arts school mishandled their sexual assaults. Years later, the case is still rattling the institution.

Critics say PAFA retaliated against two women who questioned the small school’s handling of the cases.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Two women say the school mishandled their sexual assaults. Years later, the case is still rattling the institution.
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Two women say the school mishandled their sexual assaults. Years later, the case is still rattling the institution.Read more / File Photograph

In the spring of 2016, two undergraduates at the famed Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts told school officials that they had been raped by a fellow student.

Madison Koczo and Chloe Gress, each then 21, said they were out with a group of friends in Center City and had a few drinks. They lost all memory of getting home. Koczo awoke in a daze, draped over the side of her own bed, next to Gress, whose eyes were shut. The man was standing behind them.

Both women said he raped them that night.

After their complaint was filed, school officials opened an investigation. It took nearly five months to complete. During that time, both the accusers and the accused continued attending classes at PAFA. At one point, Koczo shared an elevator with him.

And at the time, his face was emblazoned on third-party advertising near PAFA’s building. The women couldn’t get away.

PAFA "didn’t really provide a lot of protection for us,” Koczo said in an interview with The Inquirer. “We basically had to play hide-and-seek in the school every day going to class.”

PAFA concluded that the man had engaged in sexual assault, school records show, and expelled him and banned him from its campus at Broad and Cherry Streets. The Inquirer is not identifying the man because he was not criminally charged, and PAFA can’t legally turn over documentation related to its internal deliberations. The former student forcefully denied the allegations in a brief interview, saying he was scapegoated by PAFA, and refused to discuss what happened on that 2016 night.

But three years later, the case, and specifically how PAFA administrators handled it, continues to roil the nation’s oldest fine arts museum and school.

In 2017, PAFA agreed to a confidential settlement with an adjunct professor who claimed she was unfairly fired for raising questions about the handling of the rape allegations. And in November, an advisory board member said she, too, had been removed because she had persistently — and publicly — challenged the school’s response to sexual misconduct.

“I’ve tried to make myself clear,” the former board member, Caryn Kunkle, said in an interview. “I’ve tried saying it in person. I’ve tried saying it in meetings. I’ve tried saying it in the CEO’s office. I’m not really sure how else I should try to say it.”

The situation at PAFA played out as colleges across the country grapple with how they handle campus sexual assault — even after cases are adjudicated — and as the system has faced scrutiny by advocates for victims and the accused. Most campuses are bound by Title IX, the federal law that governs, in part, how educational institutions handle sexual misconduct.

Interviews with former students who reported sexual assault while at PAFA, as well as hundreds of pages of court records connected to a later civil suit involving the professor’s termination, offer a rare glimpse into a prestigious Philadelphia institution’s handling of sexual assault, a process that is typically shrouded in secrecy.

PAFA president and CEO David Brigham said the institution is committed to following legal standards under Title IX and, like many schools since 2011, has continuously reviewed its policies to adhere to the “changing regulatory landscape in this area.”

“We are totally committed to the safety of our students,” he said. “That’s why we are careful to follow the policies and practices in a very, very determined and assiduous way.” The school reiterated this in a message to the PAFA community that was posted after the initial publication of this story.

A half-dozen other current and former PAFA employees either declined to comment or did not respond.

PAFA’s critics say there remain concerns both about the small school’s response to sexual assault involving students as well as whether it retaliated against two women, the professor and advisory board member, who questioned those responses.

And some critics have been inside the administration. In one email to a student who in 2014 filed another sexual-misconduct complaint against a fellow student, an administration official acknowledged the school failed “to create a supportive environment and to respond adequately to this crisis.”

Kunkle said that she was blowing the whistle on a poor response to the 2016 sexual-assault complaint, and that in removing her from the board, PAFA lost a voice that advocated for students.

“A bunch of smart people need to get together in a room and discuss how to move forward,” she said, “so that we are protecting the well-being of our students.”

‘I just kind of felt like a puppet’

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was founded in 1805. Its historic building marks the northern edge of Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts, and the museum’s American art collection is internationally known. The academy enrolls about 200 undergraduates and fewer than 100 graduate students, meaning it has an enviable 6-1 student-faculty ratio. Tuition is nearly $40,000 annually.

The size and prestige are among the reasons why former students Koczo, a Kentucky native, and Gress, of West Chester, attended for a bachelor of fine arts degree.

On March 15, 2016, the friends hung out with the accused, then a graduate student, in a group at a Center City bar. Koczo and Gress said they had a few drinks — they remember a couple of hard ciders and a martini — and things got fuzzy.

Koczo, now 25, said she has no memory of getting back to her apartment. Next thing she knew, she was bent over her bed next to Gress. Both had blood on them, as did the graduate student’s hand, she said. Koczo said she wasn’t menstruating and believes the blood was from digital penetration.

Gress was asleep, and her underwear was on the floor, Koczo said. When Koczo realized she had blood on her legs, she went to the shower. The man followed her, she said, and raped her there orally and vaginally.

“I just kind of felt like a puppet,” she said in an interview.

Gress said she remembers that she and the accused man left Koczo’s apartment and went to hers. She fell asleep, she said, and woke up early in the morning, and he was raping her.

Later that morning, Koczo and Gress met and discussed that what happened the night before with the graduate student was not consensual sex.

“We knew exactly what happened,” Gress recalled in an intereview. “It was bad.”

About a month after the alleged attack, the women filed formal complaints to James Gaddy, who was PAFA’s vice president of human resources and Title IX coordinator. Koczo provided The Inquirer with a copy of the April 17, 2016, complaint. Experts in sexual violence say delays in reporting are common.

When The Inquirer contacted Gaddy about his role managing Title IX at PAFA, he deferred comment to the school.

PAFA, like many small schools, doesn’t have a police force but contracts with a security agency and has a vice president of safety and security. Sexual-assault investigations are overseen by the Title IX coordinator.

Reports made to schools under Title IX are based in civil rights, not criminal law, so schools don’t typically notify police of sexual-assault complaints even if they could rise to the criminal level. School officials do inform complainants that they can report to law enforcement, which Koczo said she recalled an administrator doing. But a police report didn’t feel like an option, she said. Being entangled in school and the legal system simultaneously would have been “too much.”

After reporting to the school that April, but before the case was finalized, Koczo said, she saw the accused multiple times around campus, including once when they were in a crowded elevator together.

Colby Bruno, senior legal counsel at the Victim Rights Law Center, said Title IX doesn’t require schools to physically separate complainants from the accused, but “the better schools know that any time a victim sees the perpetrator, or any time two victims see their perpetrator, that does create a hostile environment.”

And then there was the advertisement featuring the man, which remained near PAFA until last year.

After the complaints were filed in April 2016, the women said, they heard little about the investigation. Three months later, Koczo emailed officials to ask about the holdup — she knew school policy dictated they adjudicate the case within 60 days of a formal complaint.

More than 100 days after the complaint was filed, a hearing was held Aug. 3, 2016. Koczo testified; Gress provided a written statement. On Aug. 25, a panel concluded the graduate student broke school rules by engaging in sexual misconduct and sexual assault. He was expelled and banned from campus.

The process from complaint to discipline took about 130 days, more than double the 60-day time frame considered “typical” under 2014 federal guidelines.

Those guidelines note that schools can take longer but must update both sides and explain the delay, said Tanyka Barber, a lawyer with TNG, a King of Prussia educational consulting firm.

PAFA’s Title IX policy is explicit. It reads: “The investigation shall be completed as promptly as possible and in most cases within 60 working days of the date the written complaint was received.”

A PAFA spokesperson said federal law prohibits the school from commenting on disciplinary proceedings. He pointed out that PAFA students aren’t on campus over summer break, which could present logistical challenges. The spring term ends in May.

Brigham, the school president and CEO, said PAFA did all it could to keep the expelled man off-campus after the decision.

“In terms of Title IX and our authority, we have no higher punishment" than expulsion, Brigham said. “If the student, or students, making a Title IX complaint wish to do so, they can pursue criminal charges against the person that they’re making the complaint against.”

Koczo later tried. She remained unsatisfied with PAFA’s handling, so she went to Philadelphia police in 2018, about two years later. A Special Victims Unit detective told Koczo in an October 2018 email that the District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute because they “determined that they could not meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Campus disciplinary panels use a lower evidentiary standard than criminal courts, meaning a student can face discipline even if the conduct isn’t provable beyond a reasonable doubt — officials need only conclude it’s more likely than not it occurred.

A District Attorney’s Office spokesperson confirmed that Koczo filed a police report. Gress was interviewed but declined to press charges.

Gress had transferred after the alleged sexual assault and wanted to move on. Now 25 and living in New Orleans, she said it was simply time that helped her heal — and to realize the power of her voice.

“It’s important to speak up and not be silent,” Gress said of why she’s publicly telling her story. “Nothing is ever going to be solved with silence.”

A faculty member fired

Through the investigation, Koczo found an ally in one of her teachers, Stephanie Sena, who taught liberal arts courses for three years.

Sena became concerned that investigators were dragging their feet on Koczo and Gress’ case, so during a May 12, 2016, department meeting, she complained that PAFA was not promptly handling the case and wondered aloud if she should advise the women to go to police. According to deposition transcripts in public court records, Sena said her supervisor, then-chair of liberal arts Kevin Richards, responded that if she did that, she could lose her job.

The semester ended. Two months after the meeting, Sena lost her job.

She filed a federal lawsuit against the school a year later.

According to papers filed in court, Sena later told Richards she thought she was terminated because she complained about the response to campus rape. Richards responded that it “didn’t help,” according to allegations Sena made in the lawsuit. PAFA disputed her characterization in court documents, denying Richards tied Sena’s complaints about Title IX to her firing and saying she was let go for “poor performance.”

Sena declined to comment, citing a confidentiality agreement.

Brigham wouldn’t comment further on Sena’s case except to say she was an adjunct who wasn’t terminated, merely “not invited to return.” But a July 13, 2016, letter to Sena included in her lawsuit reads: “This letter is to notify you of the termination of your employment from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts as of today.”

PAFA said in court papers the decision was made by the dean of the School of Fine Arts, Clint Jukkala, after he became aware that a student complained Sena “had students come over to her house and paint her deck as part of their final project.”

Sena said during her deposition that the painting was of a mural and wasn’t part of class, but rather “a fun activity” at an optional end-of-semester gathering.

The school also said in litigation that Jukkala knew nothing of Sena’s complaints regarding Title IX. According to the depositions, he made the decision in consultation with the head of human resources.

At the time, that was Gaddy, who was also in charge of overseeing Title IX investigations.

According to the Department of Education, which issued a guidance on Title IX coordinators a year before Sena’s firing, this setup, in which the Title IX coordinator has another title, isn’t a best practice. The guidelines say that schools should avoid “designating an employee whose other job responsibilities may create a conflict of interest” and that having a full-time coordinator minimizes risk of conflict and ensures "sufficient time is available to perform all the role’s responsibilities.”

Paul Apicella, a lawyer with Montgomery McCracken who advises schools on Title IX, said this is harder at smaller schools due to resources, but employees treating Title IX as just part of their job is “something you would like to avoid.”

Today, PAFA’s Title IX coordinator is Lisa Biagas. She’s also PAFA’s vice president of HR. Brigham said there’s been no talk of changing that setup and defended Gaddy and Biagas as “trained experts in Title IX.”

Depositions in Sena’s case also revealed some people inside PAFA were critical of the handling of another sexual-assault case, this one from 2014. The student isn’t named in court records.

But they were referring to Quinn Pellerito, who in 2014 told PAFA of a sexual assault by another student in 2011. The reporting process was “very disorganized,” Pellerito said in an interview. At one point during the process, an official complained to Brigham about Gaddy because she didn’t think he “knew enough about Title IX” to be the coordinator, according to deposition transcripts.

Following that, Gaddy resigned from the Title IX coordinator role, he said in a deposition. But Brigham said in a statement that he didn’t accept the resignation.

After Pellerito filed a complaint, the school charged the man with improper and unwanted physical conduct. A disciplinary panel found him guilty, and the school determined his removal from campus — a few weeks before the end of the term — and exclusion from attending the graduation ceremony and an art exhibition were sufficient. He still graduated.

Pellerito told leaders in a letter a month later that allowing the man to graduate “belittled the severity of the event.”

An administration official still employed at PAFA responded to Pellerito from a personal email account, writing: “Institutions and their leadership may sometimes be so blinded by their belief that they are doing the best thing for the institution, that they lose sight of properly caring for those in their charge.”

Brigham said that the outcome was the result of “a collaborative, informed panel decision” and that the school stands by its process.

Pellerito, 27, now works as an LGBTQ education specialist at WOAR, Philadelphia’s rape crisis center.

Gaddy left PAFA last year for a job at Stanford University.

A prominent voice ousted

While PAFA is governed by its board of trustees, the school also has a women’s board, a 70-member fund-raising and advisory group that Brigham said is “particularly active in supporting our students.” The president of the women’s board also sits on the board of trustees.

Kunkle, 37, said she was invited to join the women’s board in 2014 after her work fund-raising for Grumman Greenhouse, the airplane sculpture next to PAFA. After graduating from PAFA’s post-baccalaureate program in 2008, Kunkle — a painter whose portraits include Bill and Hillary Clinton and Ed Rendell — launched several projects to promote the arts in Philadelphia.

In fall 2016, she met Giselle Makler, a friend of Koczo’s who knew of Kunkle’s status on the women’s board and explained her friend’s experience. Makler was concerned that students had seen the expelled man near PAFA after he was banned, and that the advertisement with his face was still near campus.

Makler emailed concerns to Kunkle, who distributed copies at the next women’s board meeting in early 2017. Kunkle said she was told the issue was beyond the purview of the board, and it was tabled.

Documents and emails show Kunkle, on at least six other occasions over 2½ years, pressed the issue with leadership in person and in writing. She said she met in early 2018 with Donald Caldwell, a member and chair emeritus of the board of trustees. After that, Kunkle said, the advertisement nearest PAFA with the man’s face disappeared. Caldwell didn’t respond to a request for comment.

While the advertisement nearest PAFA was gone and the man had been expelled, Kunkle was unsatisfied with what she saw as systemic issues related to sexual misconduct.

Kunkle, herself a survivor of sexual assault, was vocal last year about how the school handled an exhibition of photographs taken by Chuck Close, an artist and photographer who was accused of sexual misconduct after PAFA opened its exhibition.

“We have no right to brag to the international press about our progress with sex and power when we clearly have a lot of absolutely crucial progress to make with sexual assault, abuse of power, and sexism,” she wrote in an April 2018 email to Brigham, copying several members of the board of trustees and the women’s board.

» READ MORE: Sexual allegations against artist Chuck Close prompt PAFA to mount a counterpoint show on gender and power

In June 2018, Kunkle met with Brigham. She asked him to institute a “zero tolerance” sexual-assault policy and consider new procedures to keep those expelled off campus. She also repeatedly asked school leaders to review the policy on faculty who have sexual relationships with students (PAFA doesn’t ban such relationships).

Her final correspondence with leadership about the matters was in March, when she sent an email to June Smith, then the president of the women’s board and a current member of the board of trustees. Smith didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The March message was Kunkle’s most forceful. She wrote that there were other ads with the man’s face “around town” and criticized Smith for her response to concerns about Koczo and Gress’ case, as well as broader complaints about school policy.

Months went by. Kunkle realized recently she hadn’t heard from board leadership since June. She said she called Brigham’s office on Nov. 8, and an executive assistant told her she had been removed from the women’s board in July. (She was listed as an “active member” on PAFA’s website until Nov. 12, after which she was removed.)

Brigham declined twice to comment on Kunkle’s removal, saying it was outside his purview. But after The Inquirer asked a third time, he said in a statement that Kunkle’s membership was revoked because she hadn’t paid dues in two years.

Kunkle called the claim “garbage,” and said she pays her annual $250 dues in cash — she tends bar in addition to her work in the arts — and was never given a receipt. She said no one from PAFA or the women’s board ever asked about unpaid dues.

The school provided Kunkle a letter, dated July 11, from current women’s board president Lynn Lehocky, who wrote: “I want to thank you for completing your term on the women’s board. ...” There was no mention of dues. Kunkle said she received the letter on Nov. 19.

Women’s board members reached by The Inquirer either declined to comment or hadn’t heard about a change in Kunkle’s status.

Lehocky said in an email that the board is “a self-governing group with a rotating membership, and the board’s decisions related to renewing or removing individuals’ memberships are private and made solely by its members.” She didn’t respond to additional questions.