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Investigators recommend Northwestern enhance hazing prevention training

FILE - Northwestern helmets sit on a table during an NCAA college football against Stanford in Evanston, Ill, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. A team of investigators led by former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch recommended Thursday, June 27, 2024, that Northwestern enhance its hazing prevention training in the wake of a scandal that rocked the school's athletic department. (AP Photo/Matt Marton, File)
Original Publication Date June 27, 2024 - 10:46 AM

A team of investigators led by former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch recommended Northwestern enhance its hazing prevention training in the wake of a scandal that rocked the school's athletic department.

Though the 47-page report by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP released Thursday by Northwestern stated "the results of our review have been largely positive,” investigators found room for improvement when it came to preventing hazing during a nearly year-long review.

“Some people expressed an interest in more interactive and scenario-based anti-hazing trainings, while others thought a greater emphasis on bystander intervention would be valuable,” the report said. “Accordingly, we recommend that the Athletics Department consider ways in which it can incorporate more bystander intervention, interactive, and scenario based trainings into its existing anti-hazing training program.”

The report also said the school and athletic department are “aligned in their commitment to ensure that their student-athletes have excellent academic and athletic experiences, despite forces at play — many of which are not unique to Northwestern — that make equal pursuit of those two goals increasingly difficult. We hope that our recommendations, if implemented, will only enhance the Northwestern student-athlete experience.”

Lynch and her team interviewed more than 120 people, including current and former student-athletes, non-athlete students, coaches, athletic administrators and staff, faculty, university administrators and trustees. They reviewed documents and data including athletic department policies.

“Our top priority is providing the best possible experience for our student-athletes, both academically and athletically,” athletic director Dr. Derrick Gragg said in a statement. “We cannot do this without being open to continuous learning and improvement. The Department of Athletics and Recreation takes the findings of the review seriously and is eager to apply these lessons towards enhancing our programs and support systems.”

Northwestern fired football coach Pat Fitzgerald in July 2023 after 17 seasons amid a hazing scandal that led to lawsuits across multiple sports with allegations including sexual abuse by teammates as well as racist comments by coaches and race-based assaults.

Fitzgerald was initially suspended following an investigation by attorney Maggie Hickey of law firm ArentFox Schiff. That probe did not find “sufficient” evidence that the coaching staff knew about ongoing hazing but concluded there were “significant opportunities” to find out about it. Fitzgerald is suing the school for $130 million, saying his alma mater wrongfully fired him.

Northwestern hired Lynch in July 2023 to lead an investigation into the culture of its athletic department and its anti-hazing procedures. The school is implementing RealResponse — a platform that tracks issues raised by student-athletes — this summer, and has added more anti-hazing training requirements for athletes that includes an emphasis on bystander intervention. Other measures include QR codes in athletic facilities that link to resources and the creation of a new portal explaining avenues to report misconduct.

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