A national gay rights advocacy group says Northwestern University rates well above average for fair treatment and inclusion of LBGTQ+ athletes. However, the ratings also show Northwestern trails the majority of schools in the Big Ten conference

The organization called Athlete Ally has evaluated all 357 NCAA Division 1 institutions in eight different categories of protecting the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgender athletes. The end result is an Athletic Equity Index.

The group says the Index is particularly timely because of anti-gay hate crimes, as well as anti-transgender legislation which has been introduced in many states. Athlete Ally says their goal is to “celebrate schools that excel in supporting LGBTQ+ student athletes,” and be a resource for improving policies.

The mean AEI score for all schools’ athletics programs is 34.2. Northwestern received a 50. The average for the 14 Big Ten schools is 56.4.

Nationally, only ten schools achieved a perfect score of 100, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Ohio State.

This all translates to less than 3% of major college athletics programs being in what Athlete Ally calls a “fully inclusive” environment. There is a “concerning lack of comprehensive resources, policies, and practices for LGBTQ+ students,” the group says.

Northwestern seems poised to move up in the ratings soon. Sam Winemiller, Research Fellow at Athlete Ally, says “Northwestern is actually one of our most engaged athletic departments.”

He says that Maria Sanchez, chief diversity and inclusion officer for NU Athletics, is “deeply dedicated to this work.”

Winemiller says Athlete Ally’s understanding is that “Northwestern is currently developing an athletics web page focused on diversity and inclusion that should significantly improve their AEI score.” However, he says NU is taking the time to carefully consider each aspect of the site and the language of each policy “to provide an excellent outward-facing commitment to diversity when it does go live.”

Paul Kennedy, associate athletics director for communications, says NU is familiar with the Athlete Ally rankings, but has no comment on the specifics. “There are a lot of groups trying to quantify the work from the outside,” he says. “We’re focused on how it affects our actual student-athletes and are extremely confident in our direction so far.”

Big Ten ratings from Athlete Ally

  • Illinois 100
  • Ohio State 100
  • Penn State 80
  • Nebraska 75
  • Michigan 65
  • Indiana 65
  • Rutgers 55
  • Northwestern 50
  • Wisconsin 45
  • Maryland 45
  • Minnesota 35
  • Iowa 35
  • Michigan State 25
  • Purdue 20

Ratings of a couple of other Chicago area schools — DePaul 50, Loyola 15.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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