By Ashley Fetters, J. Clara Chan, and Nicholas Wu
Sarah Hubbard knew something was off about her interactions with a piano professor at the Berklee College of Music—they had a “haunting and unsettling” quality, she remembers. Hubbard, who studied violin at Berklee until she graduated in 2016, remembers that sometimes when they crossed paths, he seemed to be “deliberately trying to prolong” their interaction, and sometimes the professor, Bruce Thomas, gave her hugs that felt awkward. Sometimes he would show up near where she was, Hubbard says, lingering just at the periphery of her vision and then emailing her that he’d seen her that day but she’d seemed too busy to say hello. He sent her emails late at night, she says, and once when she didn’t respond promptly, he approached her boyfriend on campus to tell him to tell Hubbard to return his email. (Thomas did not respond to requests for comment.)
Hubbard frequently worried, as she moved around campus, about surprise encounters with Thomas, who had been teaching at the school for some three decades and occasionally composed music that her student ensemble played. When they were in the same music-department building at the same time, she’d plan escape routes: “Well, I at least can outrun this guy on stairs if I run into him; I can zoom past him. But I can’t do anything in an elevator,” she remembers thinking.
It got to the point where Hubbard had trouble focusing on her music—the reason why she’d come to Berklee in the first place. But she worried that things could “blow up in [her] face” if she reported his actions to Berklee’s leadership. “A lot of these encounters, they scream inappropriate, but they don’t scream, like, You’ve broken a rule in our handbook,” Hubbard says. So instead, she mentioned her discomfort to a faculty member she trusted, one of her student ensemble’s advisers, who she believes spoke to Thomas on her behalf—and quietly discouraged Hubbard from auditioning for any solos that, should she be assigned them, would require her to rehearse one-on-one with him.
Still, he always seemed to be close by, and Hubbard says he once cornered her in an elevator, demanding that she apologize for speaking up about his behavior.
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