The Daily Orange: Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri defends organization, discusses cultural competency

Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri said her boyfriend put it best —Miss America and the crown is like Frodo and the Lord of the Rings.

“He said the crown really is comparable to Frodo and the Ring, and it’s so accurate,” said Davuluri, who is also a Syracuse native. “You have this wonderful prized-possession, it’s something that everyone wants, and it pulls people in and you have it. But at the same time it is such a heavy burden.”

As the first Indian-American who received the title of Miss America, she said she has the responsibility, and the burden, to spread her platform of cultural competency, and that she will carry that task on for the rest of her life.

Davuluri spoke at Syracuse University on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium in Newhouse III. Her talk, “Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competency,” is part of a series of events for Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

She began her talk by explaining the four pillars of the Miss America Organization. The most important, in her opinion, is the first: service.
As part of her cultural competency platform, she advocates across the country through speeches, working with the Miss America Organization and the Department of Education in teaching diversity and promoting STEM in schools across America.

She never thought as a young girl growing up watching the iconic competition that she would one day win the crown.

“I grew up watching Miss America, feeling like I could never, never be in this role, because I didn’t fit that certain mold.” Davuluri said. “I didn’t have blonde hair, I didn’t have blue eyes, I certainly wasn’t white.”

She said she is inspired knowing that girls just like her can now look to her as a role model, and as a person that broke the mold.

Her classmates often asked questions based on preconceptions of cultural stigmas such as, “Do you worship cows?” “What tribe are you are you in?” and “Are you going to have a pre-arranged marriage?”

While describing her woes in middle school, a member of the crowd shouted “yes!” Davuluri took the interruption in stride pointing to the girl in the crowd responding, “She gets it, she’s like, ‘yes sister, I feel you.’” This is one of the many times that Davuluri received a laugh from the audience.

She said America is the melting pot of the world and that in 2015, no one should feel alienated. Davuluri’s platform seeks to educate children on diversity, to fight this feeling of alienation.

Even after being crowned Miss America she received backlash from the Twitter community. She saw xenophobic posts calling her a “terrorist” and “Miss 711,” and said in the beginning of her time with Miss America that it was very hard. She just couldn’t believe it.

“I can honestly say for every one negative comment tweet or post, I received hundreds if not thousands of words of support, not only from the Indian community, but from people all across the world,” Davuluri said.

After only about 15 minutes of speaking, she wanted to open the dialogue to the audience, jumpstarting the over an hour long question and answer portion of the evening. After an initial silence from the crowd, a smiling Davuluri said, “Bueller” — as a reference to the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” — and members of the crowd’s arms shot up.

Davuluri spent a large part of the night working to dispel the perceptions about the Miss America Organization. One member of the crowd asked Davuluri what she thinks about people believing that the Miss America competition objectifies women.

“I’m not going to sit here and deny that beauty is not an aspect of the Miss America competition,” Davuluri said. “Unfortunately it is, but it is not all of it, it is certainly a part of it.”

She said the American public only sees the models for that short time, but that the role of Miss America stretches way beyond girls in bikinis and night gowns.

Davuluri added that Miss America isn’t strutting down the red carpet every day, but is working to advocate and spread her platform. She said the job isn’t as glamorous as it seems.

“Everyone wants to win Miss America but not everyone wants the job of Miss America.”

Meghan Sinisi, a sophomore communication sciences and disorders major, wants the job. Sinisi recently won Miss Liberty, a statewide pageant sponsored by Miss America. She hopes one day to follow in Davuluri’s footsteps.

“It was really interesting to hear her platform in person,” Sinisi said. “After watching her on so many YouTube videos, she was my inspiration to get involved in the organization.”

Huey Hsiao, associate director of Multicultural Affairs, said he enjoyed that the format of the event was mostly question and answer, which he thought allowed members of the audience to really connect with the talk.

Said Hsiao: “I think it means a lot for her to be here, especially to these young people who might be trying to find their place in the world, and just to hear someone like that who is accomplished is pretty cool for people to hear.”

This article originally appeared on on April 14, 2015:

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