Racial insensitivity and cultural appropriation have left members of the team feeling ‘ostracised’

News Editor 2016-2018 // Guild Elections Editor 2017
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Images by Harold Potts

The Birmingham Pussycats have been put on probation for a year after racial incidents were reported.

The incidents are reported to include planning a Mexican themed tour and the use of the n-word which lead to minority members feeling ‘ostracised’ from the team.

The issue that was first brought to the attention of the university was the proposed Mexican theme for tour which members of the club argued was cultural appropriation. Requests for the theme to be changed due to its racial insensitivity and inappropriateness were ignored from committee members until the university became involved and placed them on probation.

The control of cultural appropriation is well established in the university. Sombreros, among other cultural costumes, were banned as fancy dress from the Guild of Students in 2013 as part of a crackdown on ‘discriminatory behaviour’.

The Birmingham Pussycats have also received allegations of racial insensitivity within the club with incidents of singing the n-word at pre-drinks. One cheerleader told The Tab that when Gold Digger was played, she ‘thought the word would be missed out, but I was the only one that did. Coincidentally, I was the only black girl in that scenario.’

Cheerleaders are encouraged to tan in the run up to big events such as Birmingham’s varsity, xpLosION. One member of the club said comments like ‘even she tans’ were made about non-white cheerleaders.

The cheerleader added that she found it ‘so upsetting. You instantly feel ostracised from something you previously belonged to.’

One member told The Tab, ‘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’.

The team were approached for comment but Redbrick is still awaiting response.

In response to this behaviour the team has been placed on a year long probation, part of which was to make a statement to the wider club and for a Diversity Officer to be elected onto the committee in the next academic year.

These changes were supposed to be communicated to the wider club within seven days of 26th April, however this has not happened. Violation of these terms could lead to the cancellation of training facilities, exclusion from Sports Night and Sports Ball or in most extreme circumstances the removal of the UB Sport grant.

The University of Birmingham told Redbrick that, ‘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.’

Sports Officer, Helena Bailey, was also approached for comment. She told Redbrick, ‘I am disappointed to hear of racial incidents reportedly taking place within the University of Birmingham cheerleading squad.’

She added, ‘The Guild of Students stands strongly against all racist discriminatory behaviour. Both the Guild and the University have a strict no-tolerance policy against any form of discrimination and we are committed to creating an inclusive and welcoming community for all.

‘We understand the cheerleading squad has been placed on a year-long probation by UB Sport and we welcome further steps, including a club-wide racial awareness course and the election of a Diversity Officer to the clubs committee.’

Bailey also pointed students in the direction of the Guild’s zero tolerance policy which contains details of how to report incidents of discrimination and harassment. It can be found here: https://www.guildofstudents.com/pageassets/footer/resourcespublications/5.-ZERO-TOLERANCE-POLICY.pdf