Cardiff Cheer accused of racism, hair discrimination, and planning ‘slave’ themed social

‘The experience was full of microaggressions and “every day” racism’

Cardiff University Cheer Society has come under fire following accusations of discriminatory behaviour against black and mixed-race members.

The allegations, which date back to as far as 2017, highlight a recurring theme of racist behaviour within the society.

One ex-student spoke to The Cardiff Tab of the “microaggressions and everyday racism” she faced while a member of the society.

“I think with cheer it was very well hidden under the surface so that it was something that you felt like you couldn’t speak up about or that maybe you were overthinking or overreacting.

“But defo the way that the black people on the team were almost treated as like outsiders”.

‘Our initiation was slaves and pirates’

One student told The Cardiff Tab: “My first year of cheer the theme for freshers ‘welcome social’ was supposed to be pirates and slaves, and freshers were going to be chained together and paraded to the SU.

“The president at the time who is black was the only one to speak up and say she was uncomfortable with the theme.

“Later in the year there were plans for a Zulu warrior and tribal themed social which myself and other black team members had to say that we weren’t comfortable with.”

Message from the 2017/18 President condemning the slave theme

The President wrote: “Basically the theme of freshers being Slaves is NOT OK.

“Slavery is a serious issue that is close to home for me being black.

“I know you guys never thought about it being offensive which is fair enough. But when I read about tomorrow I felt very uncomfortable”.

Black students were asked to straighten and re-curl their hair so the curls were ‘neat’

According to multiple sources within the society, black and mixed-race students were repeatedly asked to straighten and re-curl their hair in order to achieve ‘neat’ curls for competitions.

One cheerleader told The Cardiff Tab: “The coach asked for everyone to straighten their hair and sent pictures of a white girl with the hairstyle she wanted.

“They wanted the curls to be ‘neat’ so straightening it first would be better.”

The expected hairstyles for cheer competitions

Some students felt pressure to fit into a particular image of how a cheerleader ‘ought’ to look.

One student said: “The traditional ‘cheerleader’ image is definitely not multicultural and for some reason even when it comes to something as low pressure as uni cheer they still couldn’t manage to loosen up”.

Another wrote in a statement: “I’m sick and tired of having to see my beautiful black sisters remove their braids and straighten their hair for your ‘all American, all-star inspired’ cheer aesthetic.”

‘We were just grouped together’

One student explained that black members of the team felt like “outsiders”, and so naturally gravitated to each other. However, as a result “others on the team would say we were being cliquey and that they were scared of us”.

The student went on to describe how, despite having relationships with white members of the team, she was still grouped together with other black people as it was assumed that they were friends.

Another student explained that because they so happened “to make friends with the other black people on the team”, they “were accused of being ‘segregationists’ and ‘threatening'”.

‘The experience was full of microaggressions and “every day” racism’

One student told The Cardiff Tab that the microaggressions and “everyday” racism faced were entrenched throughout the society.

“There was the expected having to ask people not to say the n-word on socials (which I’m sure isn’t specific to cheer but just something that happens everywhere).

“Also things like constantly having people touch my hair or comparing their fake tan to my skin colour”.

Another student wrote that the “I’m nearly as dark as you” comments whenever the fake tan has been plastered on at comp “aren’t cool.”

Credit: Instagram / @cardiffuniversitycheer

‘What once was an inclusive and friendly team has now become a toxic and nasty place’

In a letter to the AU, ex-social secretary Brittany, who has been a member of the team since her first year in 2017, wrote of the issues with the coaching in the team: “During the time where we saw support in BLM grow, our members who were part of ethnic minorities shared their stories about how they had experienced racism on the team.

“We were told this was not tolerated and that the team would make an effort to educate themselves.”

Despite this promise, when it came to selecting members for the current academic year, multiple students were dropped from the team.

“When the cheer teams were released there was one POC on the level three team, just one.

“What once was an inclusive and friendly team has now become a toxic and nasty place that should not be allowed to continue in this manner.

“The dance team coaches have done everything right and should not be associated with the actions of others.”

Speaking to The Cardiff Tab, Brittany said: “I truly believed that the sharing of educational materials on social media this summer would have accelerated this progression, I was mistaken.

“I cannot speak from personal experience of how these microaggressions make individuals feel but I can say that I’m done with my friends being undervalued and misjudged.

“I hope that the teams at Cardiff University will become more and more diverse as the years go on, and let’s hope teams do learn from mistakes and make a choice to be a part of change and not just because it’s ‘trendy’.”

When asked for a comment, a Students’ Union Spokesperson said: “The Students’ Union is committed to ensuring all students groups operate in an inclusive and respectful manner. Diversity and Inclusion are two of the four core values of the Students’ Union, any behaviours that do not adhere to these standards will not be tolerated.

“The allegations mentioned are extremely concerning, any students who have experienced these behaviours should come forward at their earliest opportunity. Complaints about sports clubs conduct should be sent to [email protected]

“The Athletic Union is currently addressing concerns raised by members of the Snakecharmers team and will further investigate these allegations brought to our attention.”

Know something? Witnessed an offensive social? Had experiences in a sports society that just didn’t feel right? Send tips to [email protected]

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• Cardiff is not innocent from racism and here’s what POC have to say about it

• Cardiff uni releases statement calling for ‘real change’ in support of BAME students

• Accusations of racism have been made within Cardiff’s School of Dentistry 

Feature Image: Instagram / @cardiffuniversitycheer & @emily_haf