Tim Eddis got the letter on his 56th birthday. The document outlined the settlement terms of a lawsuit he and two others filed against their alma mater, Evanston Township High School in the north Chicago suburb. The lawsuit claimed school administrators knew Eddis and other male students were allegedly groomed and sexually abused by their former theater teacher, Bruce Siewerth. The school denied that.
According to the settlement, Evanston Township High School, or ETHS, agreed to pay $10,000 for the next 10 years to “further develop April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities at ETHS” and fund “additional professional development by trained sexual assault awareness and prevention experts” for faculty and staff at the school.
The Evanston school board voted Friday to approve those terms.
Eddis said he was involved with theater during all four years he was at Evanston, 1976-1980. He said toward the end of high school, he was in the “inner circle” and started to notice what he called “cold and calculating” behavior by Siewerth. Eddis said the teacher regularly made sexual innuendos, talking about “dicks” and “balls.” Eddis said the teacher once approached him at the school theater and made a reference about the size of the young man’s penis.
“The inner circle” Eddis talked about was what he and other former students told WBEZ was The Upstairs Theater. According to the students, it was considered a privilege to be invited there. Students would go there to hang out. One former student called it a “personal salvation” from the rest of high school’s minidramas and stress. In order to stay in good standing in The Upstairs Theater, Eddis said it meant putting up with “Siewerth’s shit.”
According to Evanston Police detective notes obtained by WBEZ through the Freedom of Information Act, one former ETHS student said unwanted touching from the teacher was “part of the sexualized culture that Siewerth created.”
Eddis said during his senior year at Evanston, he traveled alone to New York City with Siewerth to see plays on Broadway. But, he said, the teacher also took him to see gay pornography and grabbed his genitals, which are similar to allegations that WBEZ has been told by more than a dozen former students.
Eddis said when he learned others had similar experiences with Siewerth, he was surprised. He said, like him, the students didn’t talk about the alleged behavior back then. Eddis said it seemed to be “the price of admission” to be part of the school’s vaunted theater department, a place Eddis and other aspiring actors, dancers, and writers wanted desperately to be.
Eddis said the opportunity to go see plays in New York City overshadowed any doubt he may have had about traveling alone with Siewerth.“I thought, that’s what I live for is the theater, that’s what I want to do, that’s what I want to be. So of course I want to go.
Eddis said he was living with his best friend’s family when he took the trip to New York City. His parents had moved to Canada, but he wanted to finish high school in Evanston. Eddis said when the idea of traveling to New York City raised red flags with his friends’ parents, he was so focused on the chance to see shows on Broadway, he dismissed their concerns. “I would have said, ‘Oh no, no, no, he’s a great guy, he’s our director, he really cares about us … I probably would have defended him.”
Eddis said his two sons are now 15 and 18, the same age he was “when all this stuff was going on.”
Former student Eddis, now a public health consultant in Toronto, said it’s nice “something positive positive will come out of all this,” but said it falls short in bringing justice to his former teacher.
Siewerth has not been criminally charged. According to Evanston Police, detectives in the department interviewed approximately 30 accusers and 40 witnesses. Because the allegations were reported to authorities more than 20 years after the accusers turned 18, Illinois’ statute of limitations precludes criminal charges.
Legislation passed in 2017 in Illinois eliminated the statute of limitations on sexual assault of minors. That law, however, does not apply to alleged abuse that occured before 2017.
Siewerth’s attorney called the allegations against his client “absurd and fanciful.” A civil suit Eddis and his co-plaintiffs filed against Siewerth is still pending.
Eddis said initially he was reluctant to sign on to the civil suit. He said he was nervous to talk about past experiences he hadn’t even told his wife. But, as more allegations from former students emerged publicly, Eddis said he became convinced there would be some resolution. “You think, well surely this is gonna go somewhere with all this.”
Eddis said for him the civil suit was not about a personal pay-out. He said it would point to some admission of guilt.
“If there’s a settlement of whatever amount, like $100,000, $500,000 then you know damn well he’s guilty.” Eddis said.
He said that he was discouraged by ETHS’ failure to acknowledge wrongdoing or apologize. “Over a year later, to be sitting here going, ‘This is really is gonna go nowhere … you sorta see why people don’t report,” Eddis said. “‘Oh, I was raped. Why report?’ It’s like an uphill battle the whole way just to tell the truth and get some form of justice.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify some details of the experience Eddis recalls having as a teen.