Lawsuit against theater director advances

New information concerning the case against Cornwell is released

Lucille Price, Print Editor-in-Chief

The original civil lawsuit filed on Sept. 29, 2022 targeting Bowie’s long time head theatre director Diane “Betsy” Cornwell with accusations of sexual harassment, drug coercion, and emotional and verbal abuse has progressed. A group of new plaintiffs have joined the original group of five Bowie alumni who originally filed the lawsuit. 

On January 13, 2023, four previous Bowie students Luke Fisher, Rose Collins, Suzanne Edwards, and Sarah Alessandro were added in a new lawsuit filed against her in state District Court. Cornwell has been dropped from the concurrent Federal Court case, which is now focused on Austin Independent School District (AISD). 

The new state lawsuit against AISD includes allegations of assault and failure to report sexual assault. Collins attended Bowie from 2015 to 2019. The lawsuit states that she was sexually assaulted by another member of the Starlight Theater Company (STC) and Cornwell declined to remove or otherwise discipline perpetrators of same. The lawsuit claims Collins asked the student to stop and the plaintiff alleges they didn’t. 

Alessandro, who attended Bowie from 2007-2011, stated that her high school theater environment was toxic during her time in the STC. 

The suit details a moment in which Alessandro claims that Cornwell purposely tripped her on stage and showed no remorse.

Alessandro claims that the “emotional recall” unit in class negatively impacted her and remembered the lessons to be traumatizing for her.

“It felt like we were being graded on who can cry the most who can talk about the worst thing and throughout the entire process, we were very much encouraged to be as intense, deep, and emotional as possible” former Bowie student Austin Civatte said.

Civatte’s decision to withdraw from Bowie before graduation was motivated by the negative impact that the conditions of his theater class, led by Cornwell, brought to his school life. 

“I was trying to find some comfort in a teacher that I really did look up to despite everything that I had heard, and everything that I had been through, I wanted to be comforted,” Civatte said. “And all I got was ridiculed and confused. She laughed in my face. And I just ended the conversation as soon as I could, and that day, I finalized plans to leave the school and I did not finish my senior year at Bowie.” 

The suit demands that Cornwell’s name be removed from the new Performing Arts facility, and to include proper training and monitoring for theater directors. 

“I had friends who were plus-sized who were who were made fun of for their weight, were of a certain race, and would be cast as if there was one black role in a show, no matter how minor that role was, regardless of that actors talent,” Civatte said. “Yeah, you’re gonna be put in that role, but I have several friends on the trans-spectrum who were consistently mis-gendered, making their body dysphoria so much worse.”

Dispatch staff reached out to Bowie principal Mark Robinson, who stated he could not comment on personnel matters.

The Dispatch reached out to AISD for comment, but received no response at press time.