The leadership at Northwestern University has promised to offer support and listen to concerns of current and former members of its cheer team following the filing of a lawsuit in which a cheerleader said she was sexually harassed on multiple occasions.
In the federal lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Illinois, Hayden Richardson alleges the team's cheer coach at the time — Pam Bonnevier — required female cheerleaders to “mingle” with powerful donors to help the school bring in more money.
"My dignity was taken away when the school allowed grown men to sexually assault me," Richardson previously told NBC 5 during an interview.
Richardson says older men touched her breasts and buttocks over her uniform during encounters in 2018 and 2019. She also says they picked her up against her consent and made “sexually charged” comments about her appearance. And she recalled times when they offered her alcohol even though she was underage and asked to meet up later.
Richardson says that men would grope her buttocks at virtually every game that she was present at.
"We would be asked to go take photos with grown men at tailgating lots," Richardson said. "My buttocks were (touched) at probably every game. It happened to my teammates as well."
In a letter to the campus community on Friday, the university noted it heard from many individuals about the allegations of harassment and discrimination within its cheer team.
"At Northwestern, we must not tolerate any form of harassment or discrimination, and we must continue the vital work of ending it," the letter added. "We take reports of discrimination or harassment seriously, and we encourage all members of our community to come forward to report their experiences."
Numerous officials brushed aside the complaints, the lawsuit alleges.
"I filed it because I cannot allow other women that come after me to be subjected to the same thing," Richardson said of the suit.
Northwestern said in a previous statement it denied violating any laws and was made aware of the lawsuit on Friday. The school also said Bonnevier no longer works there.
"Please know that our Office of Equity has been working diligently to respond to all reports of harassment and discrimination and has taken appropriate actions," the message to the campus community read.
The letter also stated that some have shared frustrations about the "confidential nature" of university processes, but the academic institution is bound by privacy rules and guidelines that prohibit details from being discussed.
The lawsuit lists Northwestern and Bonnevier as defendants along with three other administrators, according to the Chicago Tribune. The newspaper's attempts to reach Bonnevier by phone, email and social media were not successful.
The lawsuit says Bonnevier stopped working for Northwestern in October.