Bryce Milligan speaks at the Distinction in the Arts awards ceremony at the Tobin Center in October 2017.
A 31-year-old woman who studied creative writing as a high school student of San Antonio author Bryce Milligan alleges he engaged in inappropriate conduct with her when she was 14 and a student at North East School of the Arts.
Milligan worked as the director of the creative writing program at the arts magnet school from 2000-2002.
Hailey Laine Johnson alleges that Milligan singled her out among her classmates when she was a freshman at NESA, writing songs for her and poetry about her “breasts and [her] virginity,” she wrote in a Facebook status. “He sexualized me…”
He was Johnson’s teacher then, and is more than 30 years her senior. He resigned from NESA in 2002 in the wake of the school district’s investigation into his conduct, in which he was “proposed for termination,” according to a district spokeswoman.
Johnson alleges Milligan had her sit on his lap as he graded papers. Another former student, who asked not to be named, told the Rivard Report on Friday that he had witnessed this on multiple occasions.
After being reached by text message on Friday afternoon, Milligan emailed a statement to the Rivard Report in which he denied ever having a “romantic or sexual relationship with Ms. Johnson.”
North East Independent School District spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor confirmed on Friday that in March 2002, an investigation into Milligan began based on allegations of inappropriate conduct with a student. (NESA is a magnet school at Robert E. Lee High School in NEISD.) Chancellor said Milligan was removed from the classroom, placed on leave, and recommended for termination.
Milligan resigned before the “process of his firing could be completed,” Chancellor said in a text message to the Rivard Report.
In his emailed statement, Milligan wrote, “I do not believe that blaming the victim is ever the proper approach to allegations of abuse. However, these recent allegations – which have been made against me by Ms. Johnson – affect my personal and professional reputation. Thus I must defend myself. I never had nor tried to have a romantic or sexual relationship with Ms Johnson.”
In her Facebook post and during a phone interview Friday, Johnson alleged that Milligan made her call him every night at 2 a.m., during which she said he would talk about leaving his wife for her.
Hailey’s mother, Tracy Johnson of San Antonio, said she remembers hearing her daughter talking late at night and would walk into her room to find her on the phone.
“I would hear her talking through the door in the middle of the night, and I would go in, and she would be on the phone, and I would ask who she was talking to, and she would say, ‘Bryce.’
“I was well aware that the relationship was problematic and you know it was difficult to … know how to handle it or know [what] to do about it,” Tracy Johnson said in a telephone interview. She said that she did not know the extent of the relationship at the time.
“It was difficult to hold him to a standard of teaching with a normal teacher because of the high degree of creativity in the program,” Tracy Johnson continued, “but he definitely behaved inappropriately.”
Hailey Johnson alleges that Milligan would describe to her wanting to have sexual relations with her and would kiss her neck when no one was watching.
In his emailed statement, Milligan denied having any inappropriate contact with Johnson but explained his practice of giving “open access” to his creative writing students.
“For me, part of being a good creative writing teacher was to maintain open access. Creativity happens at all hours, and I have always encouraged my creative writing students to feel free to contact me about their creative endeavors and thoughts,” Milligan wrote.
“Most of this communication was by email, some by phone, sometimes late at night,” he wrote in the statement. “I made myself available to my students, including Ms. Johnson, to discuss and critique their work. My conversations with Ms. Johnson were always strictly platonic.”
Milligan wrote in his email to the Rivard Report that in 2002 there was some controversy at NESA about his “open-access policy.” “I decided to resign as it was negatively impacting the progress of the course I taught,” he wrote Friday.
In her Facebook post, dated May 9, Johnson wrote, “I did not have the strength to tell him no or to stop because of his authority and his power, and I felt like I had no right. I was always uncomfortable, scared, stupefied, and I constantly blamed myself because I couldn’t stop him.”
Hailey Johnson said, and her mother confirmed, that she reported Milligan’s behavior to administrators at her high school campus in 2002. That was same year NEISD administrators investigated Milligan’s conduct, as spokeswoman Chancellor confirmed to the Rivard Report.
In Johnson’s Facebook post, she notes that when she went to report Milligan’s conduct to NESA’s then-Director Judith York, that York was dismissive. However, in an interview Friday night, York said the first she heard of the complaint was when Johnson’s mother brought print-outs of emails between Milligan and Hailey Johnson to Lee High School administrators. York was not involved in the investigation due to the division of responsibilities between Lee High School and its on-campus magnet program, NESA.
“I was dismayed the district allowed [Milligan] to resign,” York said. “I worried he might go to some other classroom situation and might do the same thing.”
A former student remembers Milligan being placed on leave and substitute teachers taking his place in the classroom for the rest of that year. The student describes Milligan’s relationship with Johnson as “doting.”
“It was kind of an open secret that we weren’t supposed to talk about in public and saw the way he treated her and none of us at the time, we were all too scared that he would use his influence to essentially blacklist us, so none of us really came forward,” the student told the Rivard Report.
Another former NESA student of Milligan’s, Eugene Fischer, wrote in a blog post Friday that he was a senior when Johnson was a freshman, and resented what he considered the special attention paid to her by Milligan.
He writes that he warned Milligan that “if he carried on as he was, he would get fired…”
Fischer continues, writing: “But his obsession seemed only to grow, and hazy rumors of questionable behavior began to spread. One of the times I told him he needed to cut it out or else lose his job, he responded, ‘She’s a muse, E.J. Even if I do get fired, it’s worth it. This has given me enough for ten years of writing.’ ”
In the same Facebook post that Hailey Johnson wrote alleging Milligan’s inappropriate behavior during her time at NESA, she also describes getting in touch with Milligan years later, in 2006, when she was living in Austin. She told the Rivard Report that she contacted him to get “closure.” She alleges that after meeting with him in Austin, Milligan gave her a ride back to her apartment, and then he returned uninvited to her apartment on subsequent occasions.
“He talked me into going to his studio in San Antonio, he forced his tongue into my mouth in a dark alley next to his house, he’d call me and would beg me to masturbate while he listened on the phone – which I resisted and declined, all the time wondering how the f–k this was happening again,” she wrote on Facebook.
“He began showing up to my apartment without warning. One day he stood outside of my balcony and chucked rocks at my window for hours, as I sat quietly in my place wishing for him to leave.”
Milligan denied her allegations in a statement to the Rivard Report.
“I never harassed or stalked her and I have never interfered with her career or used any of my professional relationships to hinder her success as a writer or artist in any way,” he said.
Milligan is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, author of five collections of poetry, and he recently edited and published “Literary San Antonio,” an anthology of works about the city. He received an Artist Foundation of San Antonio Award grant of $15,000 in February.
Before teaching creative writing at NESA, Milligan worked as the director of the literature program at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center from 1994 to 2000.