The decision to launch the first cheer squad at Mills College has students deeply polarized, with some saying it is a cutting edge act of feminism and some who believe it is pointless and unnecessary.
Because Mills has never had an official cheer squad, many students have considered themselves cheerleaders despite not belonging to a formal team.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but I feel like if it’s a bunch of people just standing in the stands cheering, and we already have people who come and do that,” volleyball player Julia Harencar said. “But if they want to do serious tumbling, then that’s great.”
Mills is a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 3 school, meaning that academics are emphasized over sports. Some students feel that sports are not taken as seriously as they are on other campuses. For example, UC Berkeley is a Division 1 school, meaning that many of the athletes are students on athletic scholarships. Mills does not award athletic scholarships to its students, so they are encouraged to put the bulk of their energy into academics rather than sports. Following the Mills’ Athletic, Physical Education, and Recreation protocol, the captains require that cheerleaders maintain a 2.5 GPA to stay on the team, which is the NCAA’s academic requirement to be a student-athlete.
The captains of the cheer squad have set up early morning practices to mirror the athletic team schedule already in place on campus. When the captains announced these plans at the information session, some students felt that they were asking for too much of a commitment.
“I’m sure everyone who plays volleyball or soccer would appreciate having people there to cheer them on,” junior Liz Newman said. “But I think the girls starting it took it in a direction that’s more serious than what we’re really ready for because we’ve never had a squad before.”
Mills currently has rowing, tennis, volleyball, cross country, swimming and soccer teams. Although the teams have won several championships, some students do not feel that sports are popular enough to warrant the necessity of a Mills cheer squad.
“Honestly, I don’t understand the point of it,” soccer player Jazmine Fortes said. “No one goes to Mills’ games anyway and I just don’t think it’s going to go anywhere.”
But this kind of reasoning is squad captain Alex Shepperd’s motivation for starting the cheer squad at Mills in the first place.
“I was a student-athlete for a semester and my roommate is currently a student-athlete, so I go to the games pretty regularly and the crowd is always the same,” Shepperd said. “My main goal is to get people on campus more involved.”
The question of what the cheer squad hopes to accomplish and how they intend to present themselves is an ongoing topic of discussion amongst the members of the Mills community.
Director of Athletics, Themy Adachi, said the focus of the cheer squad is to bring more spirit to the campus and to give student-athletes the support they feel they are lacking at events. With regards to the competitiveness and the ‘blonde, thin, tall’ requirements that society pairs with cheerleading, Adachi wants students to know that those sorts of stereotypes will not be perpetuated with the Mills cheer squad, which differs from a “team” because it will not be a competitive sport.
“They’re not a cheer team, they’re a cheer squad, and so it’s not about rehearsing or looking a certain way,” Adachi said. “I just don’t see that kind of squad developing here because Mills is a very socially conscious, politically aware place, so how it develops is going to be appropriate for Mills.”
Some students agree with Adachi’s sentiments and feel that having a cheer squad will give Mills a chance to lead the movement that could put cheerleading stereotypes to rest.
“I think it’s a great idea because I know there are a lot of stereotypes with cheerleaders and I think Mills is all about breaking stereotypes,” first year Tess Bates said. “We’re about cheering each other on whether we have the title or not, and I think it’s time that we reclaim that title.”
Another stereotype society has placed on cheerleaders is their exclusivity in cheering only for men’s teams in order to motivate them. Because Mills is an all-women’s college, the athletic teams are comprised of all female athletes, who are not typically seen with a cheer squad cheering them on. Supporters of the cheer squad believe that having cheerleaders cheering for the school’s all-female teams will reinforce the values that Mills stands for.
“Female teams never have cheerleaders, but at Mills, that’s all we have, and I think that’s amazing,” sophomore Mira Mason-Reader said. “I’m confident that the Mills College cheer squad will show off some more of the talent and strong women we have here.”
Despite the assurances that the cheer squad will not be a competitive one and does not aim to be a sport that supports the stereotypes society has placed on it, some students are not convinced.
“I’m not really sure what they’re going to cheer for because we don’t have major sports like basketball or football, and they started late in the season because all the sports are over, so it seems kind of pointless to me,” first year Devon Hill said. “I’m not really sure what they’re going to do or how many people they’re going to get to participate in the feminist, anti-subjugation-of-women culture we have at Mills.”
The variety of strong opinions surrounding the formation of a cheer squad is a testament to how much Mills students care about the way they represent their school. The cheer squad held their spring tryouts on February 9 and the newest members have been selected. The captains hope to begin regular practice in the next few weeks.