Kansas University’s cheerleading team has been put on probation after two female members came forward last year with stories of being subjected to physically and emotionally abusive hazing, which allegedly included forced nudity.
Following an internal investigation into the victims’ accounts, the team was found to have violated university policy on harm to persons and hazing, and placed on probation beginning last September and running through September of this year, according to the Kansas State Collegian.
The two team members, who requested anonymity for fear of further consequence, said the incident in question occurred during an “initiation” event for six first-year members last July while the team was on campus for a children’s summer camp. The cheerleaders arrived at Kansas football’s Memorial Stadium in running shoes, per the team’s orders, and were told to run up and down the hill by the stadium a couple of times, according to their accounts.
The older team members then blindfolded them, placed them in cars one by one and brought them inside an empty house, the two members said. One said she was forced inside of a washing machine, while the other said she was put in a cardboard box and jostled around as they banged on the sides.
Then led into another room, they said they were asked a number of questions, and for each question they answered incorrectly, they were required to remove an article of clothing. Eventually standing there naked, the six cheerleaders allegedly were taken into another room, while one of them said she remembered being separated from the group.
“I had taken my blindfold off along with another girl sitting next to me, and two alumni guys walked in and saw us naked,” she said as part of her account, according to the student newspaper.
Split into two groups, two of the cheerleaders allegedly were taken downstairs and deemed “initiated,” while the others were subjected to public shaming.
“They took me and two other girls, put us in a room together and told us we are ugly, we don’t deserve to be on the team and our skills weren’t good enough,” one of the cheerleaders said. “They sat us down with all the alumni and all returning cheerleaders.”
Perhaps the most disturbing part, the cheerleaders explained, was the coaching staff’s enabling of the initiation event, which was apparently an annual cheerleading tradition. Based on their experience, the coaches, including head cheer coach Lyndsay Marriott, “made excuses” for the senior members of the team and normalized the hazing, though they never referred to it as that.
The incident has left the two cheerleaders emotionally traumatized, they said, leading one to leave the school permanently.
“The reason why I’m leaving KU is solely because the university and the athletic department decided to treat me and my other teammates like we didn’t matter and were instead just pretty faces for the media,” she said.
Kansas’ cheerleading team came under national controversy in November 2016 when a photo surfaced on Snapchat showing four team members, three male and one female, wearing matching Jayhawks sweaters emblazoned with “K” on the front, with the caption “Kkk go trump.” The university temporarily suspended the cheerleaders from competition as a result.
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