Northwestern changes harassment, discrimination policies following cheer team investigation


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Ryan Field. Northwestern released the findings of an independent investigation into its handling of harassment and discrimination allegations from the cheer team on Tuesday.

Jacob Fulton, Summer Editor

Northwestern published the results of an independent investigation into concerns of sexual harassment and racism raised by its cheer team on Tuesday. 

NU will change its policies to prevent any further harassment and discrimination, with some already implemented and others slated to be in place by Sept. 3 — the cheer team’s first appearance of the season. The changes come after a yearslong push from members of the cheer team for accountability and further support and follow a 2020 investigation that resulted in the firing of former coach Pamela Bonnevier. 

The University modified its fan code of conduct — which is read out loud before each home athletic event — to explicitly condemn harassment and discrimination. 

Additionally, alumni events hosted at bars are now prohibited, and any other contact with alumni will be supervised. Events at the Wilson Club, a private suite in Welsh-Ryan Arena, will not feature the full band and cheer team this year due to COVID-19. In future years, the cheer team will now arrive and depart with the band, won’t mingle with club attendees and will be escorted by security personnel. 

The investigation also revealed that two NU employees, one former and one current, received anonymous complaints of discrimination and harassment in 2019 and did not share them with the Office of Equity. 

After the 2020 investigation, however, some community members were concerned that the University didn’t appropriately address the allegations of racism and sexual harassment. 

A former member of the team filed a lawsuit against Bonnevier, former Athletic Director Mike Polisky and two other University officials in January. She alleged that they allowed team members to be put in situations where they were subject to sexual harassment by top University donors, fans and alumni. 

A February Daily investigation also found lingering concerns about racism and discrimination within the program. In May, community members expressed opposition to the promotion of Polisky, who was mentioned in both complaints, to athletic director, leading him to step down less than two weeks later. 

Polisky was replaced by Derrick Gragg in June. Since then, NU has worked with its new cheer coach and athletic director to set expectations of program culture, according to the investigation results. 

The University is also examining its current equity policies and the way the Office of Equity handled these complaints to determine if further changes will need to be made. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jacobnfulton

Related stories:

In Focus: After the firing of Northwestern’s cheerleading coach, questions remain about the handling of racial discrimination within the program

Bonnevier files to dismiss allegations of harassment involvement under her leadership of NU cheer team

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