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My Life at CSUMB: Pumping up the Crowd

Christina Utley with cheer squad

Chrystina Utley is part of the Cal State Monterey Bay cheer squad. | Photo by Brent Dundore-Arias

February 19, 2024

By Mark Muckenfuss

Christina Utley spends a good part of her time cheering about Cal State Monterey Bay, literally.

Utley, who is in her junior year as a social work major with a minor in psychology, is also a member of the Otter cheer squad. She and her teammates regularly entertain fans at sporting events, waving pom-poms and stacking themselves into pyramids to raise the crowd’s energy level. 

With all the jumping and dancing she does, it might be hard to see her as anything but exuberant. 

But during her first semester at CSUMB she found happy moments hard to capture. She was lonely and struggling. 

“I didn’t feel like I had a community here,” Utley said. “I was feeling really low and homesick. I was thinking maybe this wasn’t the place for me. A lot of my teachers recognized that. They asked me if I needed anything. Even my mentor was very helpful. She suggested that I go home.”

Utley followed that advice, not knowing if she would return. But a week’s respite gave her the motivation she needed. 

She began working with First-Year Experience and took on the role of a student supervisor. She started making connections.

“That job has been very helpful,” she said. “I’ve gone to a lot of events and met a lot of people.”

The people she worked with, she said, “were like mentors to me as well. Everybody helped out where they could.”

Her roommate alerted her to the fact that the school had a cheer team and that it needed members. She’d been a cheerleader in high school and thought it would be fun to get back into the activity. She quickly felt an affinity for the team.

“My coach is my first Black cheer coach,” she said. “I love every single girl on that team.”

That experience – the camaraderie coupled with the excitement of performing before roaring crowds – along with support from her instructors and fellow students, has allowed her to grow, she said.

“I’m more outgoing,” Utley said. “I’m capable of more than I thought. I’m more comfortable about going in front of a classroom. I allow myself to share in class.”

Where, at one point, she doubted if CSUMB could feel like home, she now says she belongs. And on Sunday, Feb. 25, she will be honored with the Student Leader Award at the annual All Black Gala. 

“It’s a great school,” she said. “Once you find your group, you will find your way. You’re going to have the best time of your life.”  

This story is part of an ongoing series. Find other stories here