New Miss America fulfills her own platform of celebrating diversity

Fayetteville's Nina Davuluri's completes her pageant journey to become the first Indian-American Miss America.

Some view the Miss America organization as homogenous, but Nina Davuluri combats that image.

Fayetteville native Davuluri was crowned Miss New York in July and won the Miss America title Sunday evening. She was the first Indian-American woman to represent New York at Miss America and is now the first Indian-American woman to wear the Miss American crown.

“It was so meaningful for me to be the first Indian-American Miss New York,” Davuluri said in July. “Finally!” Davuluri’s talent is in Bollywood Fusion dance, and she views pageants as a way to share her talent and culture with her peers. 

Photo: Courtesy of Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger
Miss New York Nina Davuluri receives her Miss America crown from the 2013 winner Mallory Hagan Sunday night at the annual pageant in Atlantic City, N.J.

Davuluri first started competing in pageants at 16 in the organization’s Miss Outstanding Teen program, where she was the first runner-up at nationals.

Davuluri won $25,000 in scholarships, which allowed her to graduate from the University of Michigan debt-free. 

After college Davuluri reentered pageants, earning the local title of Miss Syracuse before she won the state title. She plans to use the $10,000 scholarship from Miss New York to help pay for medical school.

Davuluri said that she would love to stay in Syracuse or go to SUNY Upstate, where her older sister Meena also studies medicine.

Davuluri said that her family has been a major support system for her. Her sister, Meena, and mother, Sheela, cheered her on at Miss New York. “It was great to see her win the title when I know she put in the work that helped her get there,” her sister said.

And now that family support has gotten her the highest pageant title in the land.

“You can’t lie. You have to be yourself in front of someone who knows you best,” Davuluri said about her family helping her prepare for the interview portion of the pageant.

Meena Davuluri said that helping Nina prepare for interviews was something her family valued, as it was “the one area you really get to know a contestant and learn what they stand for.” 

Celebrating diversity

And what Davuluri’s stands for, her platform (in pageant-lingo), is something close to her heart: Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competence. Davuluri and her sister grew up in small towns in Oklahoma and Michigan, where they often faced misconceptions about their culture.

Her family was often asked “what the dot was for, or whether we had an arranged marriage,” said Davuluri. “These remarks weren’t meant to be malicious. They were due to ignorance.” 

With the Miss America organization, Davuluri has a chance to promote diversity within communities. She has already participated in a program at the YMCA, working with K-12 children to eliminate racism and empower women. “It’s about building a more inclusive society.”

Davuluri believes that schools are the first place communities need to start to build cultural awareness. “We have to make greater strides to institutionalize cultural knowledge,” Davuluri said. “The best thing to do is have diversity programs.”

Meena Davuluri added that Nina’s win coincides with the world has growing more globally connected. “It kind of seems like a perfect time to help promote this,” she said.

In addition to giving Davuluri a chance to promote cultural diversity, the Miss America Organization has helped her learn how to network and be in a social setting. “I was shy as a teen. This organization made it so I can walk into a room introduce myself, and feel comfortable,” Davuluri said.

Davuluri also said that it gave her a great opportunity to get close to a number of the contestants. “You share so many emotions during that week. It’s really the contestants that make you feel better in those moments,” Davuluri said.

One of the young women Davuluri befriended in the Miss New York pageant was Lonna McCary, Miss Thousand Islands. McCary, who also competed with Davuluri at Miss New York last year, said that Davuluri was quieter and more reserved her first year, but that she got to know her better this year. 

“It’s really hard for a girl to walk in and say that she has something important to say,” McCary said. She added that the Miss America organization gives young women a chance to prove they can be taken seriously.

McCary believes Davuluri represents her platform perfectly. “She kind of broke the mold. She’s the bridge to the next generation.”

Miss America Nina Davuluri

The newly crowned Miss America, Nina Davuluri, does the traditional feet in the Atlantic Ocean the morning after her win. (Photo: Courtesy of Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger)

Davuluri hasn’t wasted time. “There’s no time to overthink decisions,” she said. “You make a decision, you move on, and you don’t second guess yourself.”

Some of those decisions before her win at Miss America included selecting the right evening gown and further preparing for the talent competition. Davuluri spent time prepping for her in Los Angeles practicing her talent with a Bollywood-dance choreographer with choreography credits on So You Think You Can Dance.

“Thankfully my friends actually got it, or people would think I’d fallen off of the face of the earth,” Davuluri , laughing at the preparation it took for Miss America. 


Not only will the newly crowned Miss America have a very full, very scheduled year promoting her platform, she has to live up to it already.

Fulfilling her platform

Immediately after she was crowned, certain Twitter and Facebook users attacked Davuluri's color, accusing her of being un-American and Muslim. Davuluri is American, and isn’t Muslim, though this has nothing to do with her citizenship status.

"I have to rise above that. I always viewed myself as first and foremost American,” she told the Associated Press. “"I'm so happy this organization has embraced diversity. I'm thankful there are children watching at home who can finally relate to a new Miss America.

Not only does the certain parts of the public have misconceptions about what makes someone American or not but Davuluri believes the public has many confused ideas about pageants and the intelligence of the young women involved. “A lot of it comes from reality television, especially Toddlers & Tiaras,” Davuluri said.

Davuluri stressed that there were different pageant systems, and that Miss America promoted talent and scholarship compared to Miss USA’s focus on modeling. “It’s about promoting a well-rounded individual,” Davuluri said.

Davuluri said that young, local pageant titleholders should start to break the stereotypes. “Local titleholders are the first impression a lot of people have,” Davuluri said.  

Davuluri hasn’t forgotten her own local title, and she said she was thankful that the Syracuse community has been so supportive to her. While she spent most of her life outside of Syracuse, she said, “My heart is here.”

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