Thursday, September 25, 2014

I no longer believe in Miss America

In May of 2012, I was completing my year as a Collegiate Development Consultant for Delta Gamma of Fraternity. That year was the most challenging and fulfilling year of my life because it allowed me to work with and learn from women throughout the country, as a representative of a values-based organization.

Later that year, in September, I entered (and won) the Miss Greater Springfield pageant, a preliminary to Miss America. I competed in that pageant because I saw Miss Virginia as an opportunity to work with and learn from women throughout the state of Virginia. I believed that being Miss America could mirror my experience as a Collegiate Development Consultant, by allowing me to represent another values-based organization that empowers college-aged women.

Needless to say, I am now in a unique position in understanding and processing the Miss America hazing situation (I’m not going to say scandal because she’s admitted to it).

Miss America has admitted to hazing (which is, oh by the way, a crime in the state of New York). She has now somewhat famously told us that what she did “maybe fit into the broad definition of hazing,” but implied that it wasn’t really that bad.

Sure, as a general rule, female hazing doesn’t look a whole lot like male hazing. Women tend to verbally and emotionally abuse one another, whereas male hazing is typically more physical. But honestly, is either one better or worse than the other?

This is what the Miss America Organization has failed to understand: all hazing is bad. All hazing is illegal. All hazing requires the forced subordination of one group by another group or individual.

That sure doesn’t sound like women’s empowerment to me.

How can an organization that claims to empower young women continue to blindly support a brand ambassador who has admitted to hazing other young women? Hazing is by definition the very opposite of empowering; hazing involves forced subordination of others.

I understand and believe that hazing was very much a part of the campus culture at Hofstra. But the problem with Kira’s insinuation that she made a mistake is that she has yet to show any sort of remorse or even acknowledgement that what she did, while “not real hazing,” was wrong. That people may have been hurt by her actions. That, at the very least, her chapter expelled her because what she did was not in line with the values of their organization. In order to admit you have made a mistake, you have to understand why it was a mistake. And Kira has yet to identify why what she did was wrong and what, ultimately, she learned from it.

The other thing that Miss America fails to recognize is that Kira not only represents the organization, she represents each and every one of us who competes or has competed at the local, state, and national level. Her actions, past and present, and the National organization’s inaction in dealing with this situation reflects not only on them, but on every single one of us, too.

I competed in Miss America because I believed in the mission of the organization. I believed that Miss America empowered young women by giving them the opportunity to serve within their communities, advocate for causes close to their heart, and helping them to finance their college educations. I believed that Miss America was one of the best organizations for women to grow – right up there with Greek Life. I believed this because it was true; I had seen it in my own life, and I had seen it in the incredible caliber of women that surrounded me when I competed at Miss Virginia.

I no longer believe in Miss America.