Miss America draws ‘circles of unity’
BLUFFTON, Ohio—Nina Davuluri, the reigning Miss America and the first of Indian-American descent, brought her message of multiculturalism to Bluffton University April 9 as keynote speaker for the university’s annual civic engagement day.
After being crowned Miss America 2014 last September, Davuluri launched “#Circles of Unity,” a social media campaign that seeks to spread multiculturalism and promote diversity. She particularly hopes to become a role model for children and to encourage them to embrace diversity.
Davuluri became interested in advocating for diversity while attending the University of Michigan. “We always hear the buzzword ‘diversity,’” she said. “One of the things I really wanted to do on campus was find a way that we could all connect together.”
After winning the Miss New York title in 2013, Davuluri was doubtful that she could go on to become Miss America. “I knew that I could very well do the job,” she said. But as an Indian-American, she wasn’t sure if she could package herself in a way that the public would accept. “When I won the title of Miss New York, people flat out called me a terrorist,” she told the Bluffton audience. “The Miss America brand has always been to be the girl next door.”
Davuluri went on to prove that the “girl next door” need not have blond hair and blue eyes, but not everyone was thrilled to see someone of color crowned as Miss America. Despite being a Syracuse, N.Y. native, some people ridiculed the titleholder purely because of her skin color.
Fortunately, she garnered an overwhelming number of supporters to drown out the words of hate. “For one negative comment someone would post, I would receive hundreds, if not thousands, of positive responses. The younger generations have really stepped up,” she said.
Asked how to help stem racism in our communities, Davuluri said that honest communication is key. “Have an open and honest demeanor,” she suggested. She stated that she always tries to make herself available to answer questions about her culture and heritage, which she said gives others a chance to learn about what they don’t understand.
“You can’t expect every single person to know your backgrounds and beliefs unless you’re willing to talk about it.”
While on the Bluffton campus, Davuluri also visited The Lion and Lamb Peace Arts Center and had dinner with nearly 30 university students, faculty and staff.
Bluffton’s civic engagement theme for 2013-14 is “Race and Ethnicity in America: Celebration, Struggle, Opportunity.” Each year’s theme is a contemporary issue that is related to the university’s mission and becomes the subject of cross-disciplinary exploration throughout the academic year.