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Chicago Tribune: NU cheerleader sues University, alleges officials delayed investigation following complaint she was groped and harassed by fans

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A disturbing report.

Chicago Sun-Times

A Northwestern cheerleader is suing Northwestern University, according to a federal lawsuit filed Friday. The lawsuit alleges Hayden Richardson, 22, was groped by drunken fans and alumni during university-sanctioned events and that the cheer team’s head coach required female cheerleaders to “mingle” with powerful donors for the school’s financial gain. The news was first reported by Elyssa Cherney of the Chicago Tribune.

The report contains several disturbing details about the way Richardson was treated by fans, how her concerns were hardly acknowledged by her coach and how school officials largely dismissed her case.

Richardson, a transfer student from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, alleges that older men touched her inappropriately without her consent and made “sexually charged comments” about her appearance at football tailgates and donor events in 2018 and 2019. Some of the men offered her alcohol or asked to meet up later, according to the lawsuit.

“It became clear to (Richardson) that the cheerleaders were being presented as sex objects to titillate the men that funded the majority of Northwestern’s athletics programs,” the lawsuit says. “After all, the happier these men were, the more money the University would receive from them.”

According to the lawsuit, Richardson relayed concerns to her coach Pam Bonnevier, who hardly responded to them. Bonnevier is no longer at Northwestern.

Richardson began correspondence with Northwestern’s Title IX Office, which handles complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination, to report her experiences. But the office didn’t open an “official” investigation for more than a year, according to the lawsuit and Tribune reporting.

The lawsuit cites the university violated federal Title IX policies, delaying the investigation and stripping Richardson of her right to be informed about the findings. It isn’t the first time NU has come under fire for mishandling investigations into sexual misconduct cases.

Richardson is listed as a “witness” and not the complainant in the lawsuit since she requested anonymity. Since she is not the complainant, she was not entitled “to be informed of the outcome of the investigation or opportunity to appeal any findings or sanction,” the lawsuit says.

Northwestern issued a statement to the Tribune, saying “it is committed to fostering an environment in which all members of our community are safe, secure and free from discrimination or harassment of any form.” A school spokesman said all reports of discrimination or harassment are kept confidential.

The full report can be read here.