Breaking the Mold


Joanna Im

As Sophia Nuñez ’20 prepared to cheer for a basketball game, she put on her crisp, red uniform and tightened the laces on her pristine white tennis shoes. While a ponytail and bow were usually required as part of the school cheerleading uniform, Nuñez simply ran her fingers through her short, buzz-cut hair.
Being a cheerleader is not the only part of Nuñez’s identity. She also has a passion for art and is friends with many of the student artists on campus. Despite not aligning with conventional portrayals of being a cheerleader, Nuñez said that she is able to navigate both stereotypes by embracing different sides of her personality.
“I’m not blonde or blue-eyed, I have a shaved head and I’m a cheerleader,” Nuñez said. “But if you just tell someone that I’m a cheerleader who has friends that are models, they won’t imagine me as an artist. I can hang out with people from both groups knowing that I’m being myself, because none of the stereotypes are ultimately about personality, but instead about outer appearance.”
Nuñez said that she felt hesitant to initially join cheerleading due to stereotypes surrounding the activity, and did not know what to expect.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I became a part of these ‘groups,’” Nuñez said. “For cheer, I never knew how much I would grow to love these girls who are from completely different social circles. For art, I found some people who have understood me better than anyone.”
Additionally, Nuñez said that many stereotypes within her activities are accurate but should not be seen as negative.
“Some stereotypes [of cheerleading and art] hold weight to them, but I think generalizing people based on their activities will never be accurate,” Nuñez said. “Our world is filled with people who love multiple things. While I do care about things like what I’m wearing, and caring about looks is a negative stereotype of cheerleading, valuing stuff like that does not make me superficial.”
Cheerleader Julia MacCary ’19 said that cheerleading on the school team specifically does not follow general norms of the sport and that the activity does not define its members.
“In terms of how well HW cheerleaders align with more stereotypical cheerleaders, I think the biggest difference is our commitment to doing well in school and our participation in other activities outside of the sport,” MacCary said. “Everyone participates in multiple activities in addition to cheer, like theater, scientific research, and fashion designing, to name a few. In movies, it seems like cheerleaders use cheerleading as their entire identity, which just isn’t the case at HW.”
Additionally, MacCary said that other stereotypes, such as gender roles, are perpetuated in mainstream representation of performing arts but are not accurate to her experience in cheerleading.
“In the same way that being a boy who dances or acts is sometimes assumed to be gay, male cheerleaders also feel the same assumptions,” MacCary said. “I look forward to the day when anyone who wants to cheer can join the team without fear of judgement.”
Social Psychology teacher Seth Wagerman said that the formation of social groups and norms around similarities such as participating in a certain hobby is due to human evolution.
“People love finding ‘their own kind,’” Wagerman said. “On an evolutionary level, it ensures we have the resources — physical and emotional — to survive and succeed. But there can be no in-group without an out-group. Research shows that people will split into groups over something as trivial as shirt color.”
Wagerman also said that the psychology of cliques applies particularly to adolescents.
“I tell my students that the pressure to comply with social norms is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, social forces we know,” Wagerman said. “Often it’s a good thing, and it can definitely be bad, [like] not speaking up when someone is bullied or a racist comment is made. [Teenagers] are at a stage in development called ‘Identity Confusion’ in which they’re trying to figure out who they are and where they belong. So, one month they might try being ‘emo’ and another week they might be a cheerleader.”
Philip Moon ’20, who participated in Symphony Orchestra as a freshman and Wind Ensemble as a sophomore, said that he thinks there aren’t as many stereotypes or stigmas in participating in extracurriculars due to the arts requirement at the school.
“I don’t think that at our school there is much of a stereotype of being in a band, so that didn’t have an effect on my decision to play in one,” Moon said. “I know that there are generally lots of stereotypes of the ‘nerdy band kid’ in movies and on T.V., but since everyone at our school has to take an art-related elective for their arts requirement, there are less stereotypes in band.”
Nuñez said that while students can feel pressures from others due to an extracurricular-related group, they shouldn’t feel the need to conform to those norms.
“Most of he norms tied to activities like art or band are more related to outer appearance, and doesn’t hinder individual personality,” Nuñez said. “Either way, maintaining your individuality even with these pressures is hard but with good payoff.”