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Northwestern students react to football coach Pat Fitzgerald’s firing, hazing allegations

Northwestern University students on Tuesday generally agreed with the firing of football coach Pat Fitzgerald amid hazing allegations that continue to rock the football team and the campus community.

Fitzgerald was initially suspended for two weeks without pay by the university’s Chancellor Michael Schil. After the student newspaper the Daily Northwestern reported details of the alleged hazing, Schilla said he “may have erred” with the conviction and subsequently fired Fitzgerald.

Meanwhile, students are wondering what comes next, how football programs and culture can be redefined and how the larger conversation around hazing in college athletics can shift.

Malik Rice, 19, of Atlanta, is an up-and-coming Northwestern sophomore studying political science and law. He believes there has always been a culture of hazing in college athletics, especially football, so he isn’t too surprised by the accusations.

Malik Rice, 19, a sophomore at Northwestern University who studied political science and legal studies, says there’s a culture of hazing in college athletics.

Jacquelyne Germain/Sun-Times

Alongside accusations of hazing and Fitzgerald’s firing, Daily Northwestern published a story on Monday about the experiences of three former Northwestern football players navigating “a culture that allows racism.” The three players who attended school in the late 2000s also confirmed some hazing activities.

Rice said as a black student in a predominantly white institution, he wasn’t surprised to hear about football players experiencing racism.

“I wish all those black and non-white football players to live life and be better,” Rice said. “I hope they get the healing they need.”

Ethan McAlpin, 21, an up-and-coming senior from Houston, was shocked Fitzgerald was fired after the initial announcement of his two-week suspension.

“I think there was a history of ‘Oh, we’ll look into that,’ and then a committee was formed and then nothing happened,” says McAlpin, who studied computer science. “There have been some allegations of sexual harassment with a lot of fraternities that I think the school either ignored or pushed under the rug or didn’t really take direct action on.”

Headshot of Ethan McAlpin wearing a black shirt and necklace.  Their hands are folded in front of them.

Ethan McAlpin, 21, an up and coming senior at Northwestern University studying computer science, said they were shocked that Fitzgerald was fired.

Jacquelyne Germain/Sun-Times

McAlpin said firing Fitzgerald was the right move.

“I hope justice is actually served because I don’t think it’s necessarily functionally what has been done so far,” said McAlpin.

John Chen, 21, an up-and-coming senior studying biomedical engineering, was initially disappointed to hear Fitzgerald only faced a two-week suspension. Chen said he felt the hazing activities came from “top down”, and the university firing Fitzgerald was a step in the right direction.

“Start at the top, and that’s where the solutions start,” said Chen.

A headshot of John Chen wearing glasses and a light pink shirt.

John Chen, 21, an up-and-coming senior studying biomedical engineering at Northwestern University, said he views hazing as a “top-down” issue.

Jacquelyne Germain/Sun-Times

Elijah Huang, 21, a senior who also studied biomedical engineering, said the university’s decision to fire Fitzgerald after announcing his suspension was reactionary. If it weren’t for the Daily Northwestern report, Fitzgerald would likely have continued coaching, Huang said.

“It’s a bit of a shame that governance — in general, not just Northwestern — is so reactionary,” Huang said. “So if there’s no response, then nothing will change.”

Headshot of Elijah Huang smiling.  He wears round glasses and a black shirt.

Elijah Huang, 21, an up-and-coming senior studying biomedical engineering at Northwestern, said he felt the university’s decision to fire Fitzgerald was reactionary.

Jacquelyne Germain/Sun-Times

Dami Akanni, 20, a rising junior from Lagos, Nigeria, was shocked at the magnitude of the hazing accusations. A bigger change of culture and mindset among footballers is needed for real change and an end to hazing, said Akanni.

“I think now you see that no one is safe – not even the coaches now – [the players] see that consequences will be taken for action. I think that’s the first step,” said Akanni.

Head shot of Dami Akanni smiling.  He wears a long-sleeved gray shirt.

Dami Akanni, 20, an up and coming junior from Lagos, Nigeria studying economics and voice and opera performance at Northwestern, said she was shocked to hear of the magnitude of the hazing accusations.

Jacquelyne Germain/Sun-Times

Maddie Kerr, 21, a senior currently studying sociology, said they remember taking an online hazing prevention course as a freshman. Kerr realized hazing was taking place, but they were shocked to hear the details of the alleged player they had gone through.

Photo of Maddie Kerr's head smiling at the camera.  They wear glasses and white shirts with rainbow designs.

Maddie Kerr, 21, a senior studying sociology at Northwestern University, said they wondered about the mental health of football players after the hazing allegations.

Jacquelyne Germain/Sun-Times

“The mental breakdown of having to go through that stuff, even if you just witnessed it, I can’t even imagine experiencing it first hand,” Kerr said. “It was very traumatic.”

A headshot of Abbie Farley smiling at the camera.  He has blue hair and wears a pink shirt.

Abbie Farley, 20, an up-and-coming junior at Northwestern studying psychology and cognitive science, said she’d like to see more investigations into other Northwestern sports teams.

Jacquelyne Germain/Sun-Times

Abbie Farley, a rising junior who has been in the Northwestern marching band since her freshman year, said she was aware of the allegations involving the baseball and football teams. Reports coming from various varsity sports teams warrant investigation, he said. Farley, who studied psychology and cognitive science, said he would like to see more overall accountability across key university activities and organizations.

“Northwestern is only one of many D1 schools?” Farly said. “I can almost guarantee that we are not the only ones with this problem. I hope other people, other schools feel empowered to speak out and help advocate for change and feel comfortable doing so.

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