Bridging the gap with Cheikh Tchouambou
Conversations at Mac Athletics about Black History Month and beyond
Graphic by Sybil Simpson, Production Editor
In November 2020, McMaster University and the athletics department announced a five-point action plan addressing anti-Black racism, stemming from the numerous allegations of racism in the athletics department. The action plan included a variety of components, such as financial awards for Black student-athletes and paid internships for recent Black graduates.
With that being said, many Black students feel there is a disconnect Black student-athletes and non-athletes, as Cheikh Tchouambou, a third-year McMaster men’s soccer player, explained. During last month’s Black History Month initiatives, a specific event Tchouambou helped moderate — Bridging the Gap — explored this disconnect and aimed to alleviate differences.
“It was a perception that we [Black student-athletes] were staying quiet because of privilege, and we want to change that,” said Tchouambou.
Bridging the Gap facilitated discussion focused around understanding each others’ perspectives and holding departments and the university accountable.
“I still think students look up to the athletics department and athletes . . . if we are fighting this racial inequality on two fronts, can we as athletes push the department to be a professional example and get other departments to follow,” said Tchouambou.
From a broader perspective, professional athletes are seen as role models for youth, as seen as using their platform for social causes such as voter registration. On a smaller scale, Tchouambou looks up to his fellow community members, but also believes the youth look up to local athletes, such as those at McMaster.
For the youth, Tchouambou wants to change the narrative for lower socioeconomic students such that their post-secondary options are not only in the field of arts, music, athletics or employment.
“Let’s make being a doctor cool, let’s make being an engineer cool . . . Let’s make student-athletes cool, but mainly the student part,” said Tchouambou.
Tchouambou explained that as a Black student, the duality of parental pressure and schools not believing in you, where stereotypes are thrown around on how you talk and dress.
“People don’t understand it creates doubt in your subconscious,” said Tchouambou.
The student-athlete is also involved with Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster. He aims to address these accessibility barriers for future students by providing them with mentorship and assisting them with job opportunities.
“This gives future students the space to succeed without feeling imposter syndrome, anxieties of not being there and microaggressions from peers, teammates and teachers,” explained Tchouambou.
As a Black student in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program, Tchouambou understands that representation in healthcare is important; however, the lack thereof leads to disproportionate health impacts among races. Through his involvement in BAP-MAC as a vice-president, Tchouambou takes a significant role in providing avenues to streamline Black students into healthcare professionals.
“We grow up as kids dreaming of changing the world. That's virtually impossible; we should be changing our reality and circles instead. If everyone does that, imagine what change would happen in the world,” said Tchouambou.
With Black History Month concluding at the end of February, Tchouambou still feels like there is a long way to go.
“BHM was entertaining, but I always wondered why the onus on making BHM a good month is only on Black clubs,” asked Tchouambou.
He further detailed that this appreciation continues next year, but with improvement, as it is never satisfactory.
With that being said, he notes a lack of minority representation on McMaster sports teams. By having adequate representation, less microaggressions will be learned as players are in an environment that is socially acceptable and equitable for all.
Tchouambou calls on McMaster to support their Black students with simple advocacy.
“How can you fix yesterday’s wrong today. It will never be perfect, but as students, we should always hold our schools accountable and stay committed to social issues . . . There’s always more to go; it’s a dynamic process,” said Tchouambou.