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A former Northwestern volleyball player is suing the university over alleged hazing

A former volleyball player has filed a lawsuit alleging hazing took place within Northwestern University's women's volleyball team. The Weber Arch at Northwestern University is pictured in 2020, in Evanston, Ill.
Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS/abacapress.com via Reuters
A former volleyball player has filed a lawsuit alleging hazing took place within Northwestern University's women's volleyball team. The Weber Arch at Northwestern University is pictured in 2020, in Evanston, Ill.

A former Northwestern University volleyball player has filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging university officials failed to properly address a hazing incident that took place two years ago.

The player, who is identified in the lawsuit as "Jane Doe 1," is the first female athlete from the university to come forward amid reports of hazing in the school's football program.

In a 25-page lawsuit filed Monday, Jane Doe alleges she experienced "hazing, harassment, bullying and retaliation" as a member of Northwestern's volleyball team.

The lawsuit names Northwestern University, its president Michael Schill, former president Morton Schapiro, the school's board of trustees, university vice president for athletics and recreation Derrick Gragg, former university vice president for athletics and recreation James Phillips, and head volleyball coach Shane Davis as defendants.

Doe is seeking at least $50,000 in damages and a jury trial.

According to the lawsuit, the former athlete says she sustained an unspecified injury in March 2021 while running suicides — a conditioning exercise that involves sprinting different lengths across the court — as a form of punishment for allegedly breaking the team's COVID-19 guidelines.

Jane Doe says Northwestern volleyball coach Shane Davis and an assistant coach informed her she would face a "punishment" for breaking the COVID-19 guidelines and the next day, the coaches allowed the team's captains to choose her punishment.

As she ran the suicides, the volleyball coaching staff, team members and trainers watched, the suit says.

After the injury, the university responded by conducting an investigation, during which it suspended the team's coach and coaching staff, Northwestern officials told NPR in a statement.

Jane Doe also alleges that following the investigation and through December 2022, she "never once played in a volleyball game" — while coaches singled her out and made her write an apology letter to trainers without a justifiable reason.

Doe also alleges she was not permitted to travel with the team, despite previously having done so.

In a statement emailed to NPR, Northwestern University spokesperson Jon Yates said the school is working to ensure it has "appropriate accountability" for its athletic department.

"Although this incident predated President Schill's and Athletic Director Gragg's tenure at the University, each is taking it seriously," Yates said.

Attorneys Patrick Salvi II and Parker Stinar, who are representing the unnamed former athlete, tell NPR that a petition to continue the lawsuit without naming her is still pending.

"Here, we have a university where many brave young men and women are standing up for themselves, and we hope it's a sign of things to come, where student-athletes are not abused in the pursuit of wins for the school but treated like the human beings they are," Salvi said.

Salvi and Stinar have also filed three lawsuits over alleged hazing in the football program.

On Monday, prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump and members of a Chicago law firm along with a former Northwestern student-athlete announced yet another lawsuit involving the football program.

The lawsuit is the first of what's expected to be a series of filings on behalf of several Northwestern players, Crump said. The hazing allegations come weeks after former head coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired by the university.

Earlier this month, Northwestern also fired head baseball coach Jim Foster after reports of a toxic culture within the baseball program surfaced.

Chicago radio station 670 The Score reported that Foster also allegedly made racist statements and discouraged players from reporting their injuries. When asked about this allegation by the radio station he denied all allegations, calling them "ridiculous."

A Northwestern athletics spokesperson declined to comment regarding the investigation and Foster's termination.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.
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