A former Jacobs School of Music lecturer accused of sexually assaulting a student was sentenced Wednesday morning to two years probation.
Guoping Wang, 55, pleaded guilty to one charge of criminal confinement. A second charge of sexual battery was dropped as a part of a plea deal.
“Mr. Wang is more than this bad act,” Wang’s attorney, Katharine Liell, told the judge, drawing attention to his character as a dedicated husband and father to two daughters. “Wang is more than his worst act.”
Wang, a former dance coach, was arrested in July 2016 and spent 28 hours in jail after one of his ballet students accused him of sexually assaulting her in his IU office during a fall 2015 ballet rehearsal. The student said Wang trapped her in his office after offering to help her with stretches and technique. He then removed her leotard and tights, according to court documents, and proceeded to sexually assault her on the floor of the office.
IU’s own investigation of Wang in March 2016 unearthed multiple reports that Wang made unwanted advances toward staff and students. Six others said Wang forcibly kissed them on the mouth.
Speaking Wednesday through interpreters, Judge Marc Kellams reviewed the terms of the plea deal with Wang, whose first language is Mandarin. Wang would serve none of his two year sentence in jail if he admitted to committing criminal confinement — or, in this case, if he admitted to preventing the student from leaving his office that day after the November rehearsal.
Standing stoically before the judge, Wang said very little during the hearing except to answer Kellams’ question on the charge of criminal confinement: “Do you plead guilty or not guilty?”
Wang paused, waited for translation and with his right hand raised quietly replied with one word in English.
Kellams accepted the plea deal, on the conditions that Wang meets the standard terms of probation, such as meeting regularly with a probation officer, avoiding future arrests and avoiding drug use.
A deputy prosecutor speaking on behalf Wang’s former student said she was supportive of the plea agreement.
After the hearing, Liell told the Indiana Daily Student that because the sexual battery charge was dropped, Wang will not be required to register for as a sexual offender. She said Wang is seeking one-on-one counseling with a therapist.
As a former senior lecturer in the Jacobs ballet department, Wang worked extensively with students. A major part of his job was preparing them for the ballet department’s annual performance of “The Nutcracker.”
It was rehearsing for this event in November 2015 where Wang’s former ballet student said the instructor forced himself on her.
“Please, Guoping, no,” the student said as the two struggled on the office floor, according to court documents. “This can’t happen.”
That night the ballet student told her roommate what happened. She also later talked to her dance partner, when he approached her with a present Wang asked him to deliver for the ballet student’s birthday.
The student didn’t report the incident to IU until the following March, just after IU’s spring ballet. The University assigned its own investigator to the case, but didn’t contact police until the ballet student requested their involvement at some point during IU’s investigation.
The University fired Wang on May 9, 2016, after the school’s investigation turned up multiple complaints of unwanted advances made toward students and staff.
IU’s investigation of these complaints has been kept secret in a 13-page memorandum the University has refused to discuss openly. The contents of this memorandum could address questions about the extent of accusations levied against Wang, how IU handled these complaints and why the University waited six weeks to notify police of the ballet student’s report of sexual assault. The memo could also play into a greater culture of secrecy that IU maintains when it comes to issues of sexual assault.
When Wang was fired, the University released a statement in which the provost and the dean of Jacobs condemned sexual assault on campus.
“This occurrence runs counter to our values,” Jacobs Dean Gwyn Richards said in the May 2016 statement. “We will continue to do everything we can to make sure that our students have the ideal environment in which to pursue their artistic and academic goals.”
Yet, several former members of Jacobs faculty defended Wang’s teaching styles in character statements submitted to the court last week. They said Wang excelled as a teacher, he was respectful and polite and was loved by students.
“I had worked with Guoping in the same department for a long time,” said Chun Chi An, a former ballet music director at Jacobs. “I had never seen any inappropriate or disrespectful behaviors he exhibited toward any female students and faculty members.”
The character statements also included testimony from family, friends and former colleagues.
“I have students ages 16 to 21,” said Sara Knight, who met Wang at a summer ballet program in Cincinnati. “I would trust Mr. Guoping Wang 100 percent with my own students.”
Appearing before the court Wednesday, Wang’s attorney made a case that this was the former instructor’s first offense, and that because he is no longer working with students, such behavior is unlikely to happen again.
When Kellams’ accepted the plea deal, he said he believed prosecutors and Wang’s attorneys worked “long and hard” to come to the two-year probation agreement. He noted the losses, including employment and fees for legal and translation services, Wang had encountered in the nearly two years since the alleged sexual assault occurred.
“He has suffered substantial consequences as a result of this behavior,” Kellams said.