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UAA Conversations About Race and Racism: Rosie Cheng

Rosie Cheng is in her ninth year on the Carnegie Mellon University athletic training staff. The coordinator of student-athlete wellness and an athletic trainer, Cheng oversees the women’s volleyball, women’s cross country, women’s basketball, and the women’s and men’s tennis teams. She is the coordinator of the SMART (Sports Medicine Assessment of Risk Tendencies) program and is an adjunct professor at Chatham University. Cheng spent three years at NCAA Division I University of San Francisco and has also served as head athletic trainer at Leland High School in San Jose, California and Keystone College in Pennsylvania. She interned as an athletic trainer at both Santa Clara University and Stanford University.

The UAA “Conversations About Race and Racism” series seeks to lift the voices of people of color and recognize the challenges faced in both athletics and academics at the collegiate level. By sharing personal stories, we hope to elevate the conversation about race to raise awareness and bring about change.

Seeing the World Differently

“I was taught that if I studied hard and worker even harder, I would be successful in reaching my goals. Race and gender really didn’t cross my mind as a barrier until a few years ago when I took a class on women and politics,” she revealed. “This class made me aware of the disparities women face in the work force. I have always known that some disparities existed, but taking the class really opened my eyes to the levels of inequity.”

She looked back on her past experiences through a new lens and the effects of having always believed work ethic determined opportunities. “It allowed me to reflect on my career path and set new goals for the future. I realized that there were many positions I applied for where I was the best candidate, but I was not offered the position. At the time, I thought I wasn’t qualified, wasn’t educated enough, smart enough, etc.,” she expressed. “That led to a lot of negative self-talk and underestimating my own abilities. After each failed interview, I worked even harder, educated myself more in the mental health realm, and earned another degree outside of athletic training. All these things were supposed to make me more marketable, a better athletic trainer, and a better job candidate, yet I was not seeing any changes.”

Asian Woman Stereotype

“As I continued to reflect, I realized that my limited opportunities may not have only been because of my gender, but also because of my race. The common misconception people have of me is that I am the stereotypical Asian female who is portrayed as quiet, reserved, and submissive. I am none of those things,” she pointed out.

She started asking herself deeper questions about not receiving opportunities she believed she earned. “I wondered if it could have been a result of unconscious bias. Did I not fit the ‘mold’ of an Asian woman? Was I too outspoken? Was I too forward thinking? Was I too confident? How was I perceived by the hiring committee? What could I have done differently?” Cheng pondered. “I have ideas and opinions, and I use my voice. However, these traits are often perceived as being bossy, intimidating, and combative when displayed by women.”

Challenges in Athletic Training

“Most athletics and athletic training jobs and positions of power are dominated by men. Some of my biggest challenges have been when I disagree or don’t conform to the ideas and requests of those in power,” she remarked. “I will always do what I think is in the best interests of my student-athletes even if it means going against what an institution or athletic department wants to happen.”

Cheng believes she has prepared herself for opportunities that don’t always materialize. “Another challenge I have faced is not getting a promotion or being offered a position I am more than qualified to hold. More than once in my career, I was overlooked for promotions from head athletic trainer to administrative positions. When it happens repeatedly, you wonder how unconscious bias and microaggressions play into the decision-making procedures at majority white institutions.”

There are also day-to-day concerns that she faces. “It is harmful when colleagues or peers do not listen to your ideas or pass them off as their own. I have experienced others not giving credit where it is due,” she described. “I am a strong believer in hearing everyone’s voices and collaborating on ideas to achieve a common goal. I know that some of the best ideas in any setting are achieved by a team and I think the team deserves recognition accordingly.”

Advice for Other Athletic Trainers of Color

“I would tell people of color who want to pursue athletic training to follow their passion and keep working hard. Continue to network with other athletic trainers and professionals of color. A great place to start for those in the field is NATA (National Athletic Trainers Association) Ethnic Diversity Advisory Group,” she recommended. “I would encourage them to be visible within their setting when it comes to diversity and inclusion and to always use their voice to help change the culture.”

Cheng with former Carnegie Mellon tennis players Katie Lai and Cori Sidell

Cheng has been using her voice not only at Carnegie Mellon, but also in the UAA to help further important discussions. As part of the UAA Staff Mosaic Committee (a group of coaches, administrators and athletic trainers of color), Cheng brought in Viviana Ferrer-Medina from the Carnegie Mellon counseling and psychological services department to speak to the group about motivation, resilience, and mental health during the pandemic. She has also started working on bringing together athletic trainers and coaches, and current and former UAA student-athletes of Asian/Indian descent to talk about their experiences in the Association.

Role of Allies

“The most important things allies can do is to educate themselves and ask questions. Be okay with being uncomfortable. Just because a group lets everyone in the room doesn’t mean that everyone feels like they are equal or belong there,” she stated. “Respect one another’s perspective and story.”

Cheng encourages teams, departments, and companies to commit to making change. “It is important that organizations understand that in order to be diverse and inclusive, they cannot ignore workshops and discussions that are happening outside of their specific area. Methods that are effective in other areas need to be integrated to bring change into their culture. Having one diversity workshop per year isn’t being inclusive. It is checking a box,” she pronounced.

Created By
Timothy Farrell
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Photos courtesy of Rosie Cheng and Carnegie Mellon University Athletics