Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency

by guest blogger Robin Bowlus, public relations director

Next Wednesday is a big day on Bluffton’s campus. It is Civic Engagement Day. The day when the yearlong campus-wide study of our Civic Engagement theme is celebrated with presentations by students, faculty and staff.

This year’s theme, Race and Ethnicity in America: Celebration, Struggle, Opportunity has focused on celebrating the particular contributions and experiences of people from varied races and ethnicities. At the same time, we explored the ongoing struggle in the United States, including our region and our campus, toward equally welcoming people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Each year, a planning committee works to ensure that the Civic Engagement theme is well incorporated into the academic and student life events on campus. And, as part of Civic Engagement Day, the committee works to have a keynote event to cap off the day.

Last September, I prepared for my annual watching of the Miss America pageant. Something I have done since, well, forever. In fact, my mom tells a story of me as a four-year old “cutting my hair” after we watched the pageant. I wanted to “have pretty hair” not realizing that their hair was styled in up-does, and not cut off.

I soon got over my fascination with the pretty hair, dresses and princess crowns, and what I saw was educated girls being recognized for their talents in music, dancing, etc., their physical well being and their poised public speaking skills on issues of the time. As a young person, I didn't really see women being recognized in this way. Anywhere.

That night in September, I watched as Miss New York, Nina Davuluri, was crowned Miss America. She was my “pick” too, so all in all it was a good night. It wasn't until the next morning on the morning talk shows and social media sites that I saw her being questioned by the media and others for “not looking American enough to be Miss America”. WHAT!?

You see, while she was born in America, her parents are from India. So she is the first Miss America of Indian-descent. The media firestorm that erupted the following weeks was unbelievable even for me as a communication professional who watches the media with great interest.

Ms. Davuluri is a graduate from the University of Michigan and plans to go onto medical school after her reign this year. Her talent was an ethnic “Bollywood” style dance routine. And her platform, cultural competency, is what I feel helped her manage the media firestorm that she found herself in. Watching and following the story, I knew we had to invite her to Bluffton to be our Civic Engagement Day keynote speaker.

Her personal story and last seven months of her life are exactly what we have been talking about all year. So I shared my idea with the Civic Engagement committee and they said yes. Then, Miss America said yes! She will speak this Wednesday, April 9, at 7:30 p.m. in the Sommer Center. The event is free and open to the public. She will speak on her social media campaign #CircleOfUnity – Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency.

Since 1921, the Miss America organization has been celebrating the successes of young women. Each contestant has a platform, to advocate for organizations and causes that they are passionate about; most often, causes they each have personal connections to. Since September, Nina has been traveling all across the U.S. to companies, national events, and colleges and universities like Duke, Tulane, The Ohio State University, Loyola, Bluffton and many more.

I invite you to come to campus Wednesday night and engage in this civic conversation.

>>> more about the Civic Engagement Day keynote address

Learn more about the many philanthropic efforts of the Miss American organization at