BLUFFTON — Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014, was the keynote speaker at Bluffton University’s Civic Engagement Day on Wendesday at the Sommer Center.
The first woman of Indian descent to receive the crown, Davuluri is using her platform to promote cultural diversity in America.
“I talk about my own story, my upbringing here in America, what it was like to grow up as an Indian American, the assimilation of both cultures that I struggled with,” she said. “The hope is to create an open and honest discussion with a lot of question and answer time. People are more receptive to that, and they’ll get to know me.”
This theme matches perfectly with the university’s civic engagement theme this year, studying the impacts of race and ethnicity in how we interrelate in America. Bringing Miss America to the university was the perfect way to end this year-long discussion, according to university president Dr. James Harder.
“We were really drawn to the fact that her platform is very closely related to our civic engagement theme for this year,” he said. “When she speaks, people listen because of her platform.”
Her platform is titled “Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competency,” and Davuluri has been able to celebrate her own cultural heritage by maintaining close ties with her Indian heritage, including visiting family in India.
“I speak Telugu, which is a south Indian dialect,” she said.
Harder is hopeful that by students learning Davuluri’s story, they can grow to appreciate the rich cultural heritage in everyone.
“One of the things we’ve learned throughout the year is that race and ethnicity is best learned at the individual level,” he said. “We all have a story and we all have a unique experience and we all have an ethnicity that defines who we are and impacts how others view us. So to hear her story will be an important part of that process, just like we’ve shared stories among each other and tried to learn more about our environment and community. Just to have an individual like Nina who has a unique story to tell is an important part of that learning experience for us.”
Wednesday’s event is part of a whirlwind schedule for the reigning Miss America, giving her little time for other pursuits.
“I literally go from one city to the next,” she said. “I got here this morning, and tomorrow I’ll be in Minnesota and the day after that, I’ll be in Washington, D.C. This is my full-time job.”
However, this experience has also yielded many rewards for Davuluri.
“It’s been so great,” she said. “It’s been an incredible year of opportunities. Every day is so different, and it’s the best career fair in the world. You get to experience so many different fields and meet so many different people. The networking opportunities have been great.”
She has also been able to see how far this country has come in terms of celebrating cultural diversity.
“I’ve seen a significant amount of change even since I’ve grown up,” she said. “I was born in Syracuse and grew up here, and there are so many people who have embraced various cultures around the country, which has been very incredible. I’ve seen a lot of significant changes. That’s not to say that we can’t do more work, but I’m very proud of how far we’ve come.”
Davuluri’s ultimate goal is to continue to see a mutual respect and tolerance among all cultures within America.
“Just have an open mind and understand that you’re not necessarily going to agree with everyone’s beliefs or backgrounds, but you can absolutely find a way to respect one another,” she said.