After Nina Davuluri became the first Indian-American woman to be crowned Miss America last September, her achievement was overshadowed by the vitriolic reactions from Americans on social media.
Some Twitter users lashed out with comments calling her a “terrorist” and wondered why the crown wasn’t awarded to someone more American, even though Davuluri was born in New York.
Davuluri’s experiences with discrimination throughout her life inspired her to reach out and educate Americans about cultural diversity, a message she will try to communicate to Wichita State students and community at 6 p.m. March 11 at the Hughes Metropolitan Complex at 29th and Hillside streets. The Office of Multicultural Affairs organized the event with contributions from the Office of International Education and the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
Junior Saajan Bhakta is one of the people responsible for bringing Davuluri to WSU. Bhakta has served as a guest judge at Miss America events and proposed the idea in September because he feels that her story is one that WSU students should hear.
“She has a powerful and moving story to tell about embracing diversity and celebrating the differences that unite us,” Bhakta said. “Nina lives her platform. She doesn’t just travel around speaking it.”
Bhakta, who is Indian-American, said he was not sure if America was ready for an Indian-American Miss America. He said Davuluri’s crowning was a positive step for the Indian-American community.
“I was so incredibly shocked and excited when she was crowned,” Bhakta said. “I remember rejoicing with all of my friends and family as she paved the way and created a strong, positive image for Indian-Americans.”
Office of Multicultural Affairs director Alicia Sanchez said she sees this as an opportunity for WSU students to learn more about the importance of inclusiveness in society from a credible source.
“We don’t get speakers like this on our campus very often,” Sanchez said. “I think having a chance to hear someone with such a diverse background will be very exciting.”
Her presentation will seek to explain why that is an important thing for people to learn about cultural diversity.
“We are in a very diverse society,” Sanchez said. “I think that her talking about the global society that we’re in and how important it is for us to be comfortable with cross-cultural communication. There will be several takeaways that students will be able to leave with.”
Office of Multicultural Affairs program coordinator Danielle Johnson said the opportunity to meet someone as iconic as Davuluri should appeal to students, too.
Johnson said, the glitz and glamour of Miss America should not be the main draw for students to attend the presentation. Instead, Davuluri’s valuable perspective should be the selling point.
“When it’s a country that is having backlash over a Cheerios commercial that showcases a biracial child, what better way than to get educated by a woman that has her own experiences to share?” Johnson said.
Johnson also said she is disappointed with the public reaction to the Miss America pageant results, saying that Davuluri’s experience puts the spotlight on the conditions of current cultural relations in America.
“This is supposed to be the happiest moment of a woman’s life, even being able to get this far, but Twitter feeds start pulling up that she’s a terrorist,” Johnson said. “So I think she has firsthand experience with the sadder side of what diversity is.”
Sanchez also said the comments made about Davuluri showed that more people need to understand the importance of diversity in society.
“It’s frustrating when I hear about all these comments that people are saying,” Sanchez said. “At the end of the day, it all goes back to awareness and education.”
“People need to be more willing to be open-minded and understand and appreciate the differences that we have,” Sanchez said. “We’re a country that was founded on immigrants.”