Northwestern sports enable culture of sexual violence | #schoolsaftey

When I read about the allegations of rampant sexual violence in the Northwestern University football program, I was horrified. But sadly, I wasn’t surprised. As a cheerleader, I, too, was a victim of sexual abuse and harassment at Northwestern University, and school officials did nothing to stop it.

From 2018 to 2019, I was groped by drunken fans and alumni in public at football games. At university donor events, older men touched me inappropriately, picked me up without my consent and made sexual remarks about my appearance. And when I complained about the harassment to my head coach — who required me to “mingle” with donors for the school’s financial benefit — she did absolutely nothing.

So, while I was saddened to read about my alma mater’s football team, I was not shocked in the least that these activities allegedly were permitted. The abuse of Northwestern football and cheerleading teams didn’t happen in isolation. There shouldn’t be anyone asking, “How could this happen?” Of course, it happened. The choices that created this toxic culture of sexual abuse occurred thousands of times over decades. And it is conditioned to continue repeating itself until the risk is so significant, it has to end.

The culture of Northwestern is made up of the fans who sexually violated me and my teammates. It is made up of the administrators who told us it was expected we take it. My coach sent me into bars for donor events, even though I couldn’t legally get in as Hayden Richardson. These choices were condoned and sanctioned by the community and the culture it creates. This culture of sexual exploitation bleeds into everything. It exploited me, my teammates and, sadly, Northwestern football.

The culture at Northwestern normalized sexual violence to the point that the football team gave it a nickname — “running” — and organized events to celebrate the abuse, such as “Runsgiving” and “Runsmas.”

After several alleged acts of violence, there were thousands of decisions to do nothing. To stay silent. To shame their teammates into submission. To call their teammates liars and betray their friends. What a horrific series of choices — choices to organize violence, sanction violence and do nothing.

It is impossible to believe that in the case of Northwestern football, from 2006 to 2023, their leader “knew nothing.” These men worshipped head coach Pat Fitzgerald. I am shocked that 250-pound men could be so quiet during these activities that he never heard a peep.

Yet, it is the culture of Northwestern that allows leadership to turn a blind eye to systematic sexual violence and abuse. Members of leadership claim they “did not know” about my abuse, even though my team told them. And of course, now they are claiming they “did not know” about what was going on in Northwestern football.

Northwestern, a billion-dollar institution, is accountable for the actions of its people and the systematic practices within it. The institution can’t “feel bad” or “be sorry” because it isn’t real. But the university can be held accountable to ensure the future doesn’t look the same.

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That is why I filed a lawsuit in federal court, with the help of prominent Title IX attorney Andrew Miltenberg. The leadership and those who continue to exploit college women and men need to be held accountable for their actions and indifference, so it doesn’t continue to happen. Someone needs to stop Northwestern’s toxic culture of normalizing sexual abuse, and that’s why I’m speaking out and pursuing justice.

Organizing and journalism lead to the pursuit of truth, and they should lead to more work. Don’t stop just because a coach was fired. The “purgers” are not accountable, still hiding behind the Northwestern image or that of the NFL team they’re on the practice squad for.

Finally, Northwestern is also made up of you and me, people who care and take action to stop this from happening to others. Discover, uncover and break down the system. Use the process of elimination to understand the team dynamic better. They deserve that.

Burying the truth does nothing; it will come out sometime. My inbox is always open if I can be helpful. You are not alone.

If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault, help is available. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 or visit to be connected with resources.

Hayden Richardson is a political operative in Washington. She graduated from Northwestern University in 2021.

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email [email protected].

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