Female Faculty Wrote a Brave Letter to Northwestern about Sexual Harassment, Racism Allegations from Cheerleaders.Historians in the News
tags: college athletics, Northwestern University, sexual harassment, sexism, Title IX
Eighty Northwestern University faculty members, all women, have sent a letter to university leaders expressing outrage over allegations of racism, sexism and harassment on the school’s cheer team.
“Many of us teach topics associated with the history of women, gender and patriarchy, and their intersections with racism and imperialism,” the letter reads. “We are frankly astounded that at the exact same time that we have been teaching our students about the baneful impacts of these phenomena in history and culture, the university where we work has evidently been engaging in them in blatant and illegal ways.”
Professors of history, African American studies, anthropology, sociology, chemistry, English, art history, psychology, statistics and religion were among the signatories.
“We take this personally,” they wrote.
The letter, dated Feb. 11, was sent by Kate Masur, associate professor of history and African American studies, to university president Morty Schapiro, provost Kathleen Hagerty, interim athletic director Janna Blais and faculty senate president Therese McGuire. The Daily Northwestern published the letter on Feb. 14.
On Friday, Hagerty sent a reply to Masur and the other organizers of the letter.
“President Schapiro and I fully appreciate these sentiments, and we want you to know we take them very seriously,” Hagerty wrote. “The prospect that racism or sexism existed in any form in our cheer program — or anywhere at the University — runs counter to what we stand for. As your letter notes, the details have not fully emerged, and one case is in litigation. But we are committed to taking the steps to continue to fully understand what occurred, prioritize accountability and provide an environment free from discrimination and harassment, in all forms.”
The litigation Hagerty references is a federal lawsuit filed on Jan. 29 by Northwestern senior Hayden Richardson. Richardson alleges she was frequently groped by drunken fans and alumni at tailgate parties and multiple other events that female cheer squad members were required to attend. As my colleague Elyssa Cherney has reported, the 58-page lawsuit accuses Northwestern officials of failing to take action after Richardson told her coach and filed a formal Title IX complaint.
After Richardson’s lawsuit was filed, the Daily Northwestern published an article quoting current and former Black cheer team members who alleged a litany of racist comments and policies — a ban on braids during games, telling Black cheerleaders not to stand next to other Black cheerleaders on the sidelines — enforced by former Northwestern cheer coach Pamela Bonnevier. Bonnevier stopped working for Northwestern in October although, as Cherney reports, the details of her departure aren’t clear.
“The letter gave us an opportunity to publicly stand with students,” Masur said. “So often the lives of faculty and the lives of students are separate, particularly with extracurriculars. Being able to make that connection between our lives and their lives was important to us.”
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