Miss America 2014 shows that the contest is not all about pageantry.
The Ohio Union Activities Board in collaboration with the Asian American Association welcomed Nina Davuluri, the first Indian-American woman to be named Miss America, Monday evening in the Ohio Union Performance Hall. Students had the opportunity to hear from Davuluri about her experiences being Miss America and how she handled ethnic and racial stereotypes.
“People have always asked me if I’m going to have an arranged marriage or what the red dot means or if I worship cows and the list goes on and on. But many of these remarks aren’t necessarily meant to be malicious, but simply due to the fact of ignorance, and to take the opportunity to welcome questions and answer questions is something I’ve really learned is the best way to handle those situations,” Davuluri said.
Davuluri commented on her feelings and experience of being crowned the first Miss America of Indian descent in a private interview with The Lantern and Buckeye TV.
“It was so surreal for it to actually happen. But it was a dream come true. It’s crazy. It hasn’t really sunk in, that it’s me still. People will say ‘Hey Miss America.’ I don’t really answer (because I) can’t comprehend that,” Davuluri said.
Davuluri said she wanted to use the Miss America competition as way to reach out to young individuals “who may be struggling with what they look like or feel like or if they don’t fit in because they don’t fit in a certain typical mold or stereotype.”
She described her experience in the Miss America pageant last September as emotional.
“I was truly on the stage with 52 other Miss Americas. I really mean that because any single one of us could have done the job and any single one of us could have walked away with the title. It’s simply a matter of how the cards fall that night,” Davuluri said.
Davuluri, who received some racist feedback via social media after her crowning, gave advice in the interview to others on how to handle online bullying.
“I always say when you have negative, try to create positive out of it. Try to take it as an opportunity to educate people, present yourself in the best light. It’s obviously difficult when you see things like that especially written out on your Twitter feed. But, the silver lining for me at least with everything that happened was for every one negative comment, tweet or post, I received hundreds if not thousands of positive encouragement and remarks and support from people all across the country,” Davuluri said.
Davuluri also said in the interview that because of the benefits of being a part of the Miss America Organization, she was able to graduate from college, “debt free.”
“I was able to benefit so much from it (pageantry) especially with the Miss America Organization. We’re different from any other system because we’re scholarship and service-based. Because of this organization, I won a total of $91,000 to further my education, which is no small chunk of change,” Davuluri said.
There were many fans of Davuluri’s in attendance, including Miss Ohio 2013 Heather Wells, a Kent State University graduate who competed against Davuluri during the Miss America contest.
“Nina spoke so beautifully and candidly about her entire life and especially this year about Miss America. She was sincere and down-to-earth. I think she inspired everyone here tonight including myself,” Wells said.
Davuluri talked about her community service experience and her commitment to spreading diversity while she was in college at the University of Michigan.
“I liked that she really talked about the service she did in her community and that she emphasized that pageants are more than just beauty contests. It’s about your intelligence, your service and what you do for your community,” said Reena Underiner, a second-year in molecular genetics.
Rona Jiang, a first-year in accounting, said the OUAB event with Davuluri was good exposure to social identity and diversity issues.
“It’s really relevant for us, because college students are going through finding our identity and facing issues of diversity,” Jiang said.
OUAB declined to disclose costs of the event.
Davuluri talked to the audience about her perceptions of the symbol of Miss America.
“I’ve always viewed Miss America as that national icon, that symbol of the girl next door. And the reality of that situation is the girl next door is evolving as the diversity of America evolves,” she said.