By M. Scott Morris
OXFORD – It’s not Miss America’s job to show off her swimsuit-wearing abilities.
While traveling from Memphis to Oxford on Thursday, Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri said the most important part of September’s competition took place before the broadcast, when she sat down with a panel of judges for her interview.
“They want to make sure you’re well-spoken and able to communicate to everyone from kindergartners to, literally, the president,” she said.
Davuluri put her communication skills to work Thursday night during a discussion about social media’s influence on society at the University of Mississippi’s Fulton Chapel.
Social media is a topic that hits close to home for the first Indian-American Miss America. After she was crowned, there was a flurry of angry and racist comments online. They drew media attention, but they weren’t the whole story.
“Even at the beginning, for every one negative comment, tweet or post, I truly received hundreds and now thousands of positive words of support and encouragement,” Davuluri said.
It could be argued that those negative comments and the reaction to them helped Davuluri’s long-term goals. Her national platform is “Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competency.”
“I have been working on my platform essentially my whole life, but officially for three years,” she said. “This isn’t something I woke up as Miss America and decided to promote.”
She prefers to call it a competition, rather than a pageant, and she sees Miss America as a way to change perceptions. The image of the girl next door has evolved, she said.
“We live in a country that’s not as simple as black and white any more,” she said. “It was about reaching out to that young girl who was watching Miss America on television, like I was 10 years ago, and finally being able to say, ‘Wow, this year, Miss America looks like me.’”
Davuluri said that talking about racism hasn’t proven effective, and more concrete steps need to be taken.
“It’s really about engaging children with activities, exposing them to different cultures around the world,” she said. “That can be learning a different dance, speaking a different language. Something as small as even trying a different cuisine can get them excited.”
In addition to celebrating diversity, Davuluri has another message for children in general and girls specifically.
She used her scholarship money from winning Miss Michigan Outstanding Teen to study neuroscience and psychology at the University of Michigan.
Her Miss America and Miss New York scholarship money will be applied toward medical school. She has a personal interest in science, technology, engineering and math, also known as “STEM.”
“I spoke to a White House initiative panel,” she said. “I talked about the importance of STEM education for girls.”
Miss America is a beauty contest, but it’s also much more for Davuluri. She has plenty to say to people across the country, and her Miss America crown lets her say it.
“Sometimes I don’t know what day of the week it is,” she said. “I’m like, where am I today? It has been quite a whirlwind. But it’s one year, a year of incredible opportunity.”