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Exclusive: UoB cheerleading squad placed on probation after racial incidents

Members felt ‘ostracised’ after other cheerleaders used the n-word


The University of Birmingham's cheerleading team, the Birmingham Pussycats, have been put on probation for a year after a number of racial incidents.

The incidents leading to their probation include planning a Mexican themed tour and the use of the n-word, leading to minority members feeling "ostracised".

A proposed Mexican theme for tour was highlighted by members of the club as racially insensitive. When members asked for the theme to be changed due to its cultural appropriation and inappropriate nature, their requests were ignored. The club didn't change the theme until the university became involved and placed them on probation.

In addition to the issues brought forward to UoB sport, there have been wider allegations of racial insensitivity within the club. One cheerleader states the n-word in song lyrics is sung in front of people of colour at pre-drinks. She told The Tab Birmingham when Gold Digger came on, she was "singing along with the thought that the word would be missed out, but I was the only one that did. Coincidentally, I was the only black girl in that scenario."

The incident left her feeling alienated from the team. She told The Tab Birmingham: "When you're part of a team that confidently shouts the words in front of you it's so upsetting. You instantly feel ostracised from something you previously belonged to."

In the run up to xpLosION, Birmingham's Varsity, cheerleaders are encouraged to tan. One minority member told us that PoC cheerleaders are pointed at, with comments saying "even she tans" directed at them. One of the cheerleaders highlights that "cheer at uni is all about female empowerment, however that isn't the experience of PoC".

The probation came in response to complaints about the committee's conduct to the Club Development Manager at UoB sport. As a result of the probation, the club were asked to make a statement to the wider club "to clarify the issue and allude to further action to be taken". Further action includes "a club-wide racial awareness course", and the election of a "Diversity Officer onto the committee in September 2018".

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Pussycats competing in the 2014 SNF Varsity. There is no suggestion that any of the pictured cheerleaders in this article are involved in the racial incidents.

All of these should have been communicated with the rest of the club within seven days of 26th April. The club committee are as of yet to make the statement to the wider club.

Violation of this probation could result in sanctions which include being excluded from sports night and the sports ball, the cancellation of training facilities or the removal of the UBSport grant.

One cheerleader said told The Tab Birmingham: "I can't fight a whole team of people saying something so racially weighted in a seemingly casual setting."

"It's a systemic issue that has insidious implications. It’s not a one off case that happens in cheerleading. It’s peoples everyday life," they added.

The club has been said to have "an ignorance of racial issues and cultural appropriation" by a member of UoB staff, in emails seen by The Tab Birmingham.

Birmingham Pussycats were contacted for comment, however did not offer a comment directly.

Instead, a University of Birmingham spokesperson told The Tab Birmingham: "The University is aware of reports of some unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour among a small group of students.

"We take equality, diversity and inclusion very seriously, and we have already put in place a number of measures to address any inappropriate behaviour and further educate those involved through dedicated training and awareness-raising activities and will continue to do so.'"

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