Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency: Miss America Comes to PC

defaultDavid Pinsonneault ‘ 14

Meet Miss America 2014.  Her name is Nina Davuluri. She came to campus this past Tuesday night to share her story and what she hopes to accomplish during her one-year tour. Nina grew up in a small, conservative town in Oklahoma.  There, she dealt with many common stereotypes about her stemming from her Indian heritage.  People around her often wondered if she had an arranged marriage lined up or if she worshiped cows. At a very young age, she was confronted by labels that were often not malicious but simply ignorant of her culture.  She eventually moved to Michigan and began to compete in pageants.

Miss America is a non-profit organization that has four pillars: style, service, scholarship and success.  Nina sees her service, as a business woman, to be one of the most important pillars.  The Miss America Organization has also given out over forty-five million dollars in scholarship money, ninety-two thousand of which has gone to Nina.  When it came time for college, Nina took a break from competition and studied at Michigan State before transferring to the University of Michigan after one year.  While at the University of Michigan, she was exposed to an Indian community that she identified with for the first time. She immersed herself in “Brown Town,” a group a students who shared similar struggles in everyday life.  Nina shared a story, however, that reflected on how some of the different college organizations did not always hang out with one another.  A friend called her to ask what she was doing on a particular night and she responded that she was hanging out with “Brown Town.”  She did not invite the other student to join or ask to meet up later.  The other student confronted her about this the following day and Nina was glad she did.  It is important to be inclusive to all people.  This is what she says drove her to introduce a cultural day for student organizations where they could engage in different communities.  It was Nina’s hope to engage students through their senses.  She wanted them to see, touch, and feel as others would from different cultures.  This is something that drove her to get back into Miss America competitions after college.

In order to compete in the Miss America competition, one must first win at the local and state levels. After college Nina was living in New York and won Miss Syracuse.  She then won Miss New York before winning the title of Miss America.  The odds were not in her favor to do this, as the previous Miss America winner was also from New York. Before entering competition she had to ask herself two questions: Why do you want to win and what change can you make?  Nina honestly believed that in three to five years, Miss America would have to be someone with a diverse background in order to represent an image of what young America is today.  For this reason, she set her platform as celebrating diversity through cultural competency, something she had seemingly been working on her entire life.  Nina’s talent in the competitions was Bollywood, an Indian dance she shared from her culture.  She graduated with a B.S. in Brain, Behavior & Cognitive Science, and will now use her platform to understand patients’ background and beliefs to give them the best healthcare possible.  Nina hopes to attend medical school after her one year tour as Miss America.

Nina has faced criticisms as Miss America.  She has been called a “terrorist” and told that she “does not look American enough” for the title.  Nina, however, has taken this in stride.  She knows her job right now is to be Miss America and not Miss India.  She presents herself as an academic type, able to relate to people of all backgrounds; people should know better than to be intolerable.  The truth is that for every negative comment she hears, she receives much more encouragement and support.  She says that this reality is reflective of the demographics of America.  It is not easy to change the way people think.  Nina believes racism is taught.

Gender roles have also come up during Nina’s time as Miss America.  She has, at times, felt objectified.  She knows that when she walks into a room all eyes are on her, especially from men.  She uses this as an advantage and presents herself as an academic and uses her voice.  She has had meetings with people who are considered ‘high-up’ who have joked with her asking her if she can cook.  Nina says that you have to welcome all questions openly as a way to respond to any ignorance you may face.

This is why Nina is truly making big changes as Miss America 2014.  She has changed the idea of what beautiful is.  Miss America no longer has blond hair and blue eyes.  Nina explained that lighter skin is considered more beautiful in India, but in America tan is often seen as beautiful.  Beauty is subjective.  Anyone reading this should simply have confidence in themselves.  Have a support system around you that recognizes you for who you are on the inside and how you care for others around you.  Miss America no longer looks like Barbie. Miss America now looks like Nina Davuluri.  She succeeded despite her race and socioeconomic background, and encourages others that they can do the same no matter what career path they choose.

This is what Nina hopes to accomplish as Miss America.  She hopes to help others celebrate diversity through cultural competency and by sharing a little bit of herself with others.  She allows us to learn more about her culture, and more about the world. This is a new perspective that Miss America can bring to us in 2014.

miss america


Weathering the Storm of Realignment

mhagandefaultMichael Hagan ’15

We’re only a matter of hours away from the Friars’ first appearance in the Big East title game in twenty years. An automatic bid to NCAA tournament is on the line. The original Big East’s architect’s program seeks to upset the new Big East’s newest team to beat. The championship game is the culmination of a Big East season ripe with what we love most about college basketball. It is a high-energy game in which momentum is key and nothing can be taken for granted. It is the ultimate spectator sport in which the atmosphere of an arena both lends and steals momentum. Schools of every size can build, have built, and will build successful programs. A school’s size and resources matter far less than the commitment and ability of its athletes and coaches. Cinderella stories happen in college basketball, and no powerhouse program can purchase invulnerability.

Conference realignment based on football interests have threatened Providence College and schools like ours in recent years. Concerned by reforms in the NCAA football postseason and fixated on the almighty dollar, larger institutions able to support football programs suddenly decided that there was no room in the college athletics landscape for smaller institutions that could not. Football interests drove a wedge into Dave Gavitt’s basketball focused Big East; it was clear that the Big East was no conference to be in for teams hopeful for a berth in an impending playoff system.

College football’s ability to trump all other athletic interests is simply a reality. One can feel nostalgic for simpler days when conference titles and high profile bowl games were enough for everybody but Notre Dame (and the Fighting Irish could be appeased with an AP or Coaches’ trophy), but there is no going back nor real sense in complaining.

But under threat of being left out in the cold by realignment, we found out who our friends really are. In 1979 when the Big East was founded, intercollegiate friendship was not dictated by likeness in size, budget, or market. In the age of football hegemony, these have become many D1 schools’ only grounds for cooperation. But Providence College and the rest of the Catholic seven (plus honorary Catholic college, Butler University) have weathered the storm. It is a shame that a climate has developed in which the mid-sized private and large public schools that made up the old Big East cannot coexist in a conference, but interscholastic solidarity between those of us that UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, and the like decided they couldn’t be bothered with has brought an exciting new beginning out of what could have easily spiraled into catastrophe.

For tonight (and hopefully for the coming weeks), the Big East is all about basketball. But I am hopeful that the new Big East will offer opportunities for great athletic rivalry coupled with constructive interscholastic cohesion. We are a misfit conference out to prove the worth of mid-sized and small schools on the court, on the fields, and on our campuses. Competitive spirit between athletic rivals can be a powerful motivator and bond when harnessed properly. Following the example of the late Dave Gavitt, Providence College can be a leader in this new conference athletically and otherwise. Competitive rivalries between athletic programs and fruitful relationships conducive for mutual enrichment and collaboration between other campus leaders stand to be developed between these schools that share so much in mission and seek most faithfully to preserve the tradition of Big East basketball unadulterated by destructive football-centric interests. This is one more thing to celebrate as we cheer on the Friars in tonight’s Big East championship game. The novelty of this new conference is solidarity between schools and with tradition. Go Friars!

An ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, “Requiem for the Big East,” will air Sunday, March 16 at 9 PM. Read a Friar fan’s perspective on the documentary here.

A Niche Discussion of Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Responsibilities

IMG_497604574877~2Matthew Henry Smith, ’16

There is a part of the abortion debate about which you may be unaware. It’s one I hold a queer stake in, and one that you should be talking about.

I was reading the Providence Journal this morning while enjoying a big bowl of Raisin Bran when I came across an article by Randal Edgar profiling four pieces of legislation in Rhode Island that have to do with abortion. The last proposal Edgar noted was about sex selection, “Yet another [bill] would ban abortions in cases where ‘the decision is based on the sex of the unborn child.’”

To preface, those close to me know that I have a pragmatic opinion about abortion legislation. I dream of a world without abortion, but I know the way to get there isn’t to legislate against it. I understand some of the reasons why people pursue abortion and also understand the reasons why people abhor the practice.

Inasmuch as I want to see the end of abortion, I know that abortion won’t end before poverty and misogyny end. I know that abortion decreases when pregnancy decreases and that pregnancy decreases when women in every country are educated. My life-respecting philosophy in regards to reproduction involves an approach that is a multi-faceted combination of abstinence and safe-sex education. And I know that a view this moderate might appear a cop-out for some of my friends on the polar ends of this issue, (some of whom might think that, as a man, I have not right to have an opinion at all). I’ll tell you that I have arrived here after years of deliberation. It is also a position that will call me to shout, not at right-to-life marches, but in support of women’s groups who fight for equal access to education and resources. What’s more, my view on this is just one element of many in my philosophy on environmentalism and human population, (you should know I am not a speciestist).

Further, if you believe as I do that there is an enormous difference between abortion and contraception then you should consider that the institutions we think of as the abortion industry provide many service to prevent abortion (by preventing pregnancy). They offer sexual health and wellness amenities for men and women in need, educating on safe sex and pregnancy prevention, etc.  For more on this I recommend that you watch Aljazeera America’s fabulous documentary The Abortion War.

But while the majority of this issue – and the solution – centers around equity there is a part of it that does not.

And I have a queer stake in some legislation rising in Rhode Island.

America critiques other cultures for post-birth sex-selection. We look at China’s preference for males and we shake our heads. But our prejudice, inconsistent as it might be, is rooted in a far greater hubris. It is quieter, cloaked in the laurels of scientific achievement and discussed in thin-lipped, even tones. In America we terminate pregnancies when we don’t prefer the sex of the baby.

That is if it even gets that far. Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, (or PGD) is the practice of fertilizing multiple eggs and then determining the traits of each. This often results in a person choosing only to implant the fertilized eggs with the traits they prefer. Often, this means that parents are choosing only to implant eggs of the desired sex. I’m not opening up the “where does life begin” argument. But I’m saying we need to talk about what we allow ourselves to expect from our kids and where we think we get the authority to have a sex preference in the first place.

There are two queer reasons why sex selection in preimplantation and pregnancy termination is unjust. The first is that it is another way our culture promotes the sex binary. We choose to believe that people are either males or females and, when a person is born with XXY chromosomes or ambiguous genitalia, we take away their sex identity and make them either male or female surgically. According to ISNA.org, incidents of “intersex condition” are 1 in 2000. This means that there are more people who are intersex than there are people with cystic fibrosis. This means that there are more people who are intersex in the world than there are Jews.

You can see how many people are degraded by the sex binary. When they are born we often assign them a sex surgically. I have spoken with people who defend parents in this case saying; “they thought they were doing the best thing for their child.” The argument is that parents just want their kids to grow up and have normal sexual relationships. But when we “fix” our intersex children to fit our sex binary, (or never allow them to be born), we reaffirm a dysphoric cultural paradigm that says the following: Happiness and achievement in its highest form is sexual and procreative. I believe this to be patently false. And so there is a great risk of intersex discrimination with PGD and sex-selective pregnancy termination.

The second queer reason to reject the practice of sex selection is that it reaffirms a cultural ignorance of the differences between sex and gender. While someone might choose to implant or terminate a zygote based on the knowledge that it is male or female, there is just no telling whether or not that male or female will (or would have) go up (or grown up) to be a boy or girl. We default to the cisgender  “rule” and in much the same way that we default to heterosexism. When we partake in sex selection we promote cisgender privilege and reject the dignity of trans people. When we choose not to carry a female fetus to term because we want a boy we are fooling ourselves into think we can choose gender.

We cannot.

So this is my queer stake in this issue. I’d like you to care about it. But even if you don’t, even if you are so far to the left that I appear to you some misplaced queer zealot, you still have a stake in this. Because this isn’t a faith argument about the origin of personhood: it’s a rallying cry for the unmasking of the illusion of human control.  And whether this law comes to pass or not, Friars, consider the assumptions you might hold about your future kids. Would you love your intersex child if love meant loving their birth body? Do you dream of one day having a “boy” OR a “girl?” Do you buy into this illusionary market of control?

It’s time to think about these tough questions.

The Communication Challenge

Guest Chat by Maria Costa, PC ’16.

It’s Friday (thank God). Finally done with class for the day, I’m sitting in front of my computer. My thumbs skate across the glassy 4 ½ inch screen of my phone as I take breaks in between my rounds of Candy Crush to text my friends from home and check what’s going on in the Twittersphere. I have about 5 windows open all at once on the computer screen, listening to Spotify, occasionally glancing at Facebook and doing some online shopping, texting my PC friends through iMessage to make plans for the night, and keeping a blank Word document up just so I can reassure myself that I thought about getting a head-start on homework for the weekend. As I’m flipping back and forth between each of my little windows, it strikes me. This is kind of excessive, isn’t it? Naaah. It’s Friday, I deserve a break, and this is fun. But it’s not just Friday. It’s every day. I constantly have my phone on me, and I can never stop checking it. I need to know if I have any new emails, new texts, new tweets, or likes on Facebook or Instagram. My phone is always safe and snug in a pocket where I can feel it vibrate to tell me someone is trying to talk to me or is affirming my words or photos. It’s become a habit, a bad one, and it interrupts daily interactions. I’ve realized that it is excessive – perhaps it’s just me, but I sense that this is a fairly common scenario, and it’s time for us to take on a new challenge.

Our heads are down.

Walking across campus, before classes, in dining halls, and even in small social gatherings with friends, our heads are constantly bowed, as if in reverence, but instead, in a relentless trance of technology. Our ears are always perked for the sound of our phones buzzing, offering some new slice of information. No one can wait; there is always a sense of urgency to whatever lies in the colorful world behind the glass (or plastic) screen, and no one can stop checking again and again what you could be missing out on if you ignore the incessant updates. We cannot help ourselves. Every text, tweet, Facebook post, and like on Instagram is essential. The virtual universe offers us an escape from the demands of our lives and a window into the lives and thoughts of others.

We are a generation of extreme multi-taskers; we are alerted by every slight illumination of our smartphones, and of course, would not dream of depriving them of attention. Our attentiveness to any task is always shared with our focus on the wired world, so that our homework and readings are supplied with all-too-easy reasons to procrastinate, and texting one person while talking to another characterizes many of our conversations. This techno-savvy world demands us to keep up with each small detail that occurs throughout the day; otherwise we will be left in a dark, unknowing state. So this is why we sit across the table from family members and friends with our hands gripped tightly around the slender bodies of our smartphones, half tuned out from what they are saying – because society dictates that face-to-face communication is an unnecessary waste of time. But our personal electronic interactions are unnatural for our social need for human contact. If we keep looking down at our phones and ignore the world, not only will we continue to walk into those weird, hip-height poles that are in the middle of sidewalks all over campus, but we will condemn ourselves to walk down a path of human isolation.

True effective communication involves talking to someone face to face. While texting someone, reading their tweets, looking at their pictures on Facebook and Instagrams, and even just talking on the phone is fun, convenient, and easy, none of these methods of communication allow you to see their face and their body language, and therefore get a true sense of how the person you’re talking to is feeling or reacting. As we rely on virtual communication and favor it over more personal interactions, we have begun to lose our social skills and our appreciation for taking the time to communicate – to just chat for no reason, share funny stories without a 140-character limit, and appreciate a beautiful sunset without looking at it through a filtered lens.

The technological revolution has presented us with countless benefits that make life easier to capture memorable moments, connect with old friends and acquaintances, and communicate with others in quick, easy ways. We have fully embraced the advances that technology has offered us, and they absolutely are a tremendous aid in our fast-paced, stressful society of appointments and deadlines. However, the problem arises when we begin to take advantage of the comfort of technology and take its simplicity to an extreme. We look down at our phones to in fact avoid eye contact and interaction with others, we play silly app games just to waste time when we could be spending it more meaningfully otherwise, and lose the appreciation and happiness found in moments surrounded by the beauty of nature or the warmth of loved ones. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is essential to have down time to just relax, I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in finding solace in the humor of my Twitter timeline, getting lost in the artsy photos and “tbt”s of Instagram, and “trying just one more time” on Flappy Bird. It’s addictive.

This is the problem. The constant checking of our texts and social media have become our habits, our phones an extension of ourselves. It is much too easy to fall into the habit of picking up our phones the second that we have nothing to do in order to check our news feeds and notifications and block out the stresses and tasks of the day. But when we do this, there is an abundance of real life and experiences that we are missing out on.  The virtual world can wait – it’s not going anywhere.

So the challenge is to put down the phone. Turn it off. Put it in your backpack, your purse, or somewhere it won’t bother you. Use this as a potential Lenten sacrifice. Test yourself and reward yourself, for every half hour to fifteen minutes you spend on your phone looking at social media or just texting, make sure you spend an equal amount of time calling someone and having a real conversation, reading something that isn’t for school, or meeting friends for a quick lunch or coffee. Or if you’re a Twitter addict, discipline yourself so that after you’ve written 3 tweets in a day, you have to stay off of twitter for (at least) the next 3 hours. Challenge yourself to always keep your phone off the table at meals, and hold a real conversation with the people you’re sitting across from, one where you respect the people you’re with by paying attention to them instead of what’s happening on your phone. I know it might be tough, it is a true challenge to leave that virtual universe behind – especially when you are already in the habit of keeping it as a daily part of your life. But I challenge you to try it. Get together with your friends instead of just talking on a group text. Read a book or a newspaper instead of your Twitter feed. Sit and look at the snow falling or the beautiful colors of the sky and write about it or just simply appreciate it instead of Intagramming it. Take pictures for the memories instead of for your profile picture on Facebook. Enjoy what life has to offer, because each moment is fleeting and precious, but the internet is forever.