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Report: UNCG theater professor retires amid misconduct allegations
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Report: UNCG theater professor retires amid misconduct allegations

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GREENSBORO — A UNCG theater professor will retire effective at the end of the month amid allegations of abuse brought by students, according to a published report.

The Greensboro publication Triad City Beat reported Friday that Denise Gabriel has resigned from the university. UNCG declined to tell Triad City Beat or the News & Record the exact reason for Gabriel's departure, but Triad City Beat reported that two former students "are certain it was the result of an internal investigation by the university."

A UNCG spokeswoman said Monday that Gabriel is not teaching during the current spring semester and will retire from the university on Sunday. Gabriel did not return an email seeking comment.

UNCG hired Gabriel in 2009 after she had taught acting from 2003 to 2009 at the University of Alabama and was the resident movement director with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, according to biographical material on her personal website. Gabriel has worked at eight universities, including UNCG, in a higher education career that dates to 1976. She says she has production credits in more than 50 professional plays at theaters around the world, according to her UNCG biography, and is a founding board member and past president of the American Theatre Movement Educators.

At UNCG, Gabriel was an associate professor of theater at a salary of $67,773, according to university records. She taught classes in acting and movement up through the fall semester and directed theatrical productions at the university. While in Greensboro, Gabriel also has worked as the resident movement director for Triad Stage, the regional professional theater that puts on performances in Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

The Triad City Beat story gives detailed accounts from three UNCG graduates, all named in the article, of alleged misconduct involving Gabriel.

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One woman told the publication that she was subject to an unwanted massage at Gabriel's apartment in 2014 while she was enrolled at UNCG. A Black woman alleged the professor made bigoted comments to her on a class trip to a theater festival in 2016. A man told the publication he felt bullied by Gabriel when he served as her research assistant about a decade ago.

One former student told the publication that she and others who had had encounters with Gabriel met recently with UNCG's Title IX director, who investigates complaints brought under that federal statute. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972 bars sex discrimination — including sexual violence and sexual harassment — in universities, K-12 schools and all other educational institutions that receive federal funding.

The allegations surrounding Gabriel are the second instance in recent months involving someone connected to UNCG's theater school. Preston Lane resigned as producing artistic director of Triad Stage in November, shortly before Triad City Beat published a story in which four former UNCG students, all men, accused Lane of sexual abuse while they were in college. Lane, through his attorney, has denied the allegations.

Lane taught acting and directing at UNCG as an adjunct instructor through the end of 2019. A university spokeswoman said in November that Lane will not return to teaching there.

In a letter released Tuesday by the university, Natalie Sowell, director of UNCG's School of Theatre, told those associated with the school that she and others are "angry and hurt and sad" about the reported incidents. She added that UNCG "has been engaged in extensive confidential exploration, investigation and discussion since issues were first surfaced at a meeting with alumni" in August and encouraged students to contact UNCG's Title IX office if they had similar experiences to report.

"I want to emphasize here the commitment of the university to investigate and address these issues and the effort being put into both providing support and requiring accountability," wrote Sowell, who didn't mention either Gabriel or Lane in her letter. "I want to highlight how faculty have listened to feedback and have made changes in the way they approach diversity and inclusivity in the curriculum and in our productions. ...

"We will continue to identify ways that we can come together as a community, to have productive dialogues and to heal," she added. "Addressing issues of culture and climate in a way that truly generates change takes time, commitment and courage. As a UNCG Theatre community, I know we will all do what we can to help with this critical work."

Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.​

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