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Northwestern cheerleader alleging sexual harassment is not surprised by hazing scandal

Former Northwestern cheerleader says she 'wasn't shocked' by hazing scandal
Former Northwestern cheerleader says she 'wasn't shocked' by hazing scandal 02:41

CHICAGO (CBS) -- As a Northwestern cheerleader, Hayden Richardson says the athletic department and others at the university turned a blind eye to her complaints of sexual harassment.

More than two years later, as the fallout from the football team's hazing allegations continues, Richardson says she is upset - but not surprised - to hear allegations that the school did not do enough to protect its athletes.

Richardson spoke exclusively with CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey on Thursday. It has been more than two years since Richardson filed a federal lawsuit against Northwestern University - accusing the university of failing to take action when she reported repeated sexual harassment, and even assault, while on the cheerleading team.

Richardson says that while her case should have changed the culture, school leaders continue "shaming and silencing survivors."

"They looked at us and said: 'Well, what do you expect? You're a cheerleader. Isn't this part of the job?'" Richardson said.

That job, according to Richardson - who cheered for Northwestern starting in 2018 - was to be presented as "sex objects" at alumni events in order to appease wealthy donors.

"Those different kinds of events looked like us going into the parking lot four hours before a football game started - with Northwestern knowing that we were going to be sexually harassed and sexually assaulted in the parking lots," she said.

We spoke to Richardson from Washington, D.C., where she now lives - and she described the constant groping and sexualized comments.

She complained to her coach, then the associate athletic director, and was told to get evidence to prove her case.

So Richardson got statements from teammates saying the same thing - but was accused of fabricating evidence.

She filed a 58-page federal lawsuit in 2021.

"[T]heir positions on the team were conditioned on pleasing and being groped by wealthy older men and intoxicated fans for the purpose of encouraging donations to the University and supporting Northwestern Football," the suit reads.

Former Northwestern cheerleader not surprised about hazing scandal 02:55

When Richardson saw the recent headlines of hazing and sexual abuse within the football team, she wasn't at all surprised.

"What happened to my team wasn't exclusive to Northwestern cheerleading," she said. "That kind of behavior was promoted and allowed to fester and occur."

It also deeply impacted her. Hayden says the abuse impacted her ability to sleep and caused panic attacks - and her grades suffered.

What did horrify her was claims by the football team's leaders that they had no idea what was going on.

"Seeing people in these senior leadership roles say, 'I had no idea' - there's no way you didn't know," Richardson said. "These athletes look up to you. They tell you everything. You at minimum we're going to hear whispers because these things don't happen quietly."

Richardson says lawsuits like hers and those recently filed by football players are one way to help fix the problem - but more needs to change.

"To rectify these behaviors, they would have to take a step back, further analyze how these behaviors came to be, and then start putting measures in place over years and years and put someone in position to hold them accountable," Richardson said.

Richardson's case is ongoing. We did reach out to Northwestern about the suit and Richardson's claims that the school has continued to shame and silence survivors since her lawsuit was filed.

Late Thursday, we were still waiting on a response.

Meanwhile, if you're wondering why Richardson didn't just quit the team, she says she feared losing her scholarship. Cheerleaders who quit are also required to pay back any travel or equipment expenses.

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