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U of R cheer team's 'Cowboys and Indians' photo sparks controversy

03/16/2014 03:22 EDT | Updated 05/16/2014 05:59 EDT
The University of Regina is responding after a photo sparked outrage over the web depicting some members of the school's cheerleading team posing in 'cowboys and Indians' style stereotypical costumes.

The photo was apparently posted one of the girls on the team . Some of the women are wearing plaid shirts and cowboy hats, while others have feathers, headbands and braids in their hair and dresses that are made to look like they're made from animal skin.

University of Regina President Vianne Timmons issued a written release Sunday. It acknowledged that the team was part of a social event Friday evening that included "culturally inappropriate themes and costumes."

Her statement went on to say that the team's coach has apologized. 

"Further steps will require that the team's coaches and team members discuss this matter as a group with the University's Executive Lead on Indigenization and take cultural sensitivity training," Timmons' statement said. "Once these discussions have taken place, the University will determine whether further disciplinary actions are required."

Kinesiology Dean Harold Reimer, also expressed his apologies on behalf of the university Sunday afternoon. ​

"I have told them actually that it was wrong," said Reimer. "The university's code of conduct for students, faculty and staff is that we treat everyone, regardless of their status, or minority group…with respect and we behave in a responsible manner so that everyone who lives and works on this campus feels comfortable and welcome, that's the university policy. 

"If you're a student here, you're a staff member here, you're a faculty member here, when you compete with University of Regina's name on your jersey that's your obligation," he continued. 

Reimer explained that the picture was taken during a practice session and not during competition, but he added that the circumstances doesn't excuse the team's actions. 

He said the team along with its coaches will be meeting with the university's leader in indigenization this coming week to discuss what happened and the issues surrounding their actions, after which the university will continue to review the incident and determine whether further action needs to be taken. 

"We will work to make sure that this sort of thing doesn't happen in the future and that that people learn from this experience," he said. "We are an institute of higher education and our goal is to always have people different when they leave. That they've changed, that they've learned and matured and that's our goal here too."

U of R professor responds to Tweet

Andrea Sterzuk is an associate professor at the Faculty of Education, and one of the people who participated in the heated debate on Twitter after the picture was re-posted. ​

"I was disturbed by the image and I thought that the team, like all of us who live in Saskatchewan, likely need formal education on the topic," Sterzuk told CBC News. "Because treating First Nations and Métis women as a costume objectifies them and that behaviour, I think, contributes to their dehumanization, which is a larger problem that I think all Canadians need to be concerned about."

Sterzuk said she sees this campus incident as a snapshot of a broader problem that exists in our society, and it should be used as a learning opportunity. 

"I think sometimes apologies are hollow and they don't lead to change," she said. "...it's an ongoing process educating ourselves on these issues and so I think it's not enough to take the Tweet down I think it's important to learn why the tweet and the behaviour and the picture shouldn't have happened in the first place, understand why someone in the group didn't speak up."

Some students shocked at cheer picture 

Ryan Deschamps, a doctorate student at the university, saw the picture on Twitter and said he feels very disappointed that something like this would happen. 

"I thought we were kind of past this issue," said Deschamps. "I think it was something that we've seen in the news that's obviously insensitive to certain people and I don't understand how that actually happened." 

Deschamps said he was also not impressed by the critical comments posted in response to the picture. 

"It's not really productive just to criticize people when obviously, I personally think, there's some kind of misunderstanding here, somebody must have dropped the ball and was insensitive here, and I think there's a lot more proactive measures that I understand are already being taken by the university that would be more effective."  

Richard Sipley studies computer science at the university and says he's shocked to see the cheer team post such a photo. 

"I'm shocked that students still think with that mindset," said Sipley. "I mean students are viewed as progressive and that's almost racist."

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