Nina Davuluri

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Nina Davuluri
Nina Davuluri.jpg
Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri, at the International Alliance for the Prevention of Aids (IAPA) benefit dinner, April 19, 2014.
Born (1989-04-20) April 20, 1989 (age 26)[1]
Syracuse, New York, U.S.
Residence Fayetteville, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Ethnicity Indian American
Education University of Michigan
(B.S.Brain, Behavior & Cognitive Science, 2011)
St. Joseph High School
Occupation Public speaker and advocate
Known for First Indian American Miss America and Miss New York
Height 5'7"[1]
Title Miss America 2014
Miss New York 2013
Miss Syracuse 2013
Second Runner Up, Miss New York 2012
Miss Greater Rochester 2012
First runner up at Miss America's Outstanding Teen 2007
Miss Michigan's Outstanding Teen 2006
Term September 15, 2013 - September 14, 2014
Predecessor Mallory Hagan
Successor Kira Kazantsev
Religion Hinduism
Official Website

Nina Davuluri (Telugu: నీనా దావులురి; born April 20, 1989), Miss America 2014 and Miss New York 2013, is the first Indian American (and second Asian American) to be chosen as Miss America and the first to perform a Bollywood dance on the Miss America stage. She is also "the first Miss America to receive xenophobic and racist comments about being a terrorist or Muslim extremist,"[2] as well as being of an Indian ethnic background,[3] on social media.

Davuluri's current work as a public speaker is an extension of her time as Miss America, where her platform was "Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency,"[4][5] and when she promoted STEM.[6] Beginning in the Fall of 2016, she plans to pursue a joint MPP/MBA (Master of Public Policy/Master of Business Administration) program with an emphasis on International Relations and Marketing.[7]

Childhood, education, and pageants[edit]

Davuluri was born on April 20, 1989 in Syracuse, New York,[1] to Hindu Telugu parents [8][9] from Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India.[9] Her mother Sheela Davuluri is an information technology specialist and her father Chaudhury Davuluri is an OB/GYN.[8] Her elder sister Meena is a medical student at SUNY Upstate Medical University and the President of Upstate's student chapter of the American Medical Association.[10][11]

When she was six weeks old, Davuluri was brought to live with her grandmother and aunt in Vijayawada. She stayed there until she was two and a half years old, at which time her parents brought her back to the United States.[12] She would return to India every summer, however, to study various forms of Indian dance.[8] She also speaks Telugu.[13]

Davaluri lived in Oklahoma for a period as a child until her family moved to St. Joseph, Michigan when she was 10.[14] While in Michigan, she studied ballet, tap dance, and jazz dance. She was also a "high school marching band clarinetist, cheerleader, varsity tennis player and Science Olympiad team member at St. Joseph High School."[8] She graduated from St. Joseph in 2007,[14] the same year that her family moved to Fayetteville, New York.[15]

Davuluri was initially waitlisted from the University of Michigan and attended Michigan State University for the fall of her freshman year. She then reapplied and was admitted to the University of Michigan for the spring semester of her freshman year.[16] Davuluri was a Sigma Kappa (Alpha Mu,)[17][18] a member of the Indian dance squad, Maya,[8] and the recipient of several awards including Dean's List, Michigan Merit Award, and National Honor Society Award.[19] She graduated in 2011 with a B.S. in Brain, Behavior & Cognitive Science.[8][17][20] Originally a pre-med student (Davuluri returned to New York after graduation and took nine pre-med courses at Le Moyne College),[21][22] she announced midway through her tenure as Miss America that she would be not be applying to medical school in the future.[23][24]

Miss Michigan Outstanding Teen and Miss New York[edit]

Davuluri notes that she became involved in pageants in order to pay for college.[10][25] She began competing while a resident of Michigan, won Miss Michigan's Outstanding Teen 2006, and was first runner-up at Miss America's Outstanding Teen 2007. She received $25,000 in scholarship funds[14][26] and then "took about five years off from the pageant world" in order to finish her undergraduate education.[26]

Davuluri returned to the pageant world in 2012 (this time as a resident of New York) in order to pay for graduate school.[26] She was "Miss Greater Rochester" 2012[27] and consequently the second runner up in the Miss New York 2012 pageant[28][29] (where Mallory Hagan won the "Miss New York" 2012 pageant and would later win the title of Miss America 2013 in Las Vegas).[28][29] Davuluri competed again the following year and won the title of "Miss Syracuse" 2013.[30] She then went on to win the title of "Miss New York" 2013, becoming the first Indian American to do so.[10][31][32] Her sister Meena and their mother helped Nina to prepare for the Miss New York pageant.[10]

After she was crowned Miss New York, Davuluri invited friends to her hotel room for a party. A fellow contestant in a neighboring hotel room claimed that she overheard Davuluri refer to Mallory Hagan as “fat as [bleep]" during the party. According to a Miss America official: "The situation was investigated fully back in July and there is no validity to the story whatsoever. Miss New York spoke to Mallory Hytes Hagan to let her know there was no validity and to apologize if she was offended in any way.”[33] Davuluri has also stated in interviews that she did not make these remarks and that "Mallory and I are good friends."[4] In addition, Davuluri has spoken publicly about losing 53 pounds (24 kg), her personal struggles with bulimia, and her belief that 'you don't need to be a certain size to be healthy.'[34][35]

Miss America 2014[edit]

Miss America, Nina Davuluri, during the 2014 Miss America traditional toe dip, September 16, 2013.

"I really wanted to help effect a change in beauty standards [....] Miss America's branding is so associated with the girl next door, which has always meant blonde hair and blue eyes with only a few exceptions, but the girl next door must evolve as the country evolves. When I was younger I wanted to fit in, but I was aware growing up that I didn't fit that mould, and I really wanted to help make a change that meant young girls wouldn't feel like that."

—Nina Davuluri[25]

Davuluri served as Miss America 2014 from September 15, 2013 to September 14, 2014. The 2014 pageant was held at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, thus returning to its original venue after nine years in Las Vegas.[36] It was co-hosted by Chris Harrison and Lara Spencer and was broadcast live on ABC. The panel of celebrity judges for the top 15 finalists were: Deidre Downs Gunn, Carla Hall, Barbara Corcoran, Amar'e Stoudemire, Lance Bass, Joshua Bell, and Mario Cantone.[37]

For the talent portion, Davuluri performed a fusion of Bollywood dance with Indian classical dance (she grew up studying Indian classical dance forms Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam).[5][9][12][38] She choreographed the routine with the help of Nakul Dev Mahajan and performed it to the song, "Dhoom Taana," from the Bollywood film, Om Shanti Om.[5][39][40] Davuluri stated in an interview with Inside Edition that for her talent routine, she "actually started off singing." She eventually chose instead to do a Bollywood fusion dance because it was "so representative" of her, despite the fact that many people told her that she was "never going to win with a Bollywood talent so just go back to singing if you are serious about it." She also noted that it was the first time that a Bollywood dance routine was performed at the Miss America pageant.[34]

In the final moments of the Miss America pageant, Davuluri and Miss California Crystal Lee were the last contestants left on the stage. They were approached by co-host Lara Spencer who asked how they were feeling at that moment. Davuluri stated that she and Lee were "both so proud. We’re making history right here, standing here as Asian-Americans."[41][42][43] In a later interview with NPR's Michel Martin, Davulri described the moment as a, "very surreal, out-of-body experience, being there in the final two. I was holding hands with Miss California, Crystal Lee, and we were both standing there at such a historic moment — two Asian-Americans who were going to take the title and to be a new symbol of hope and encouragement." [26]

Response and significance[edit]

"I have to rise above that [...] I always viewed myself as first and foremost American."

"The biggest thing I realized is that many of these remarks aren’t necessarily meant to be malicious but are simply a factor of ignorance [...] understanding everyone’s beliefs and backgrounds and finding that common ground so we can all communicate in an open, honest and respectful manner [...] is something I’ve essentially been promoting my entire life.”

—Nina Davuluri, in response to the "flood of racist criticism on social media" after her win.[44][45]

Shortly after she was crowned Miss America 2014 by Miss America 2013 (Mallory Hagan), xenophobic and racist comments[46][47][48][49][50] relating the proximity of the event date to the nine-eleven anniversary and to anti-Indian sentiment appeared on social media.[46][48][48][50][51][52][53] News agencies cited tweets that misidentified her as Muslim or Arab, associated her with groups such as Al-Qaeda, and questioned why she was chosen over Miss Kansas Theresa Vail.[46][48][51][54] Davuluri said that she was prepared for the social media response because "as Miss New York, I was called a terrorist and very similar remarks."[30][55] In a speech for her alma mater, St. Joseph High School, Davaluri added: "I had people flat out call me a terrorist ... I've always viewed myself as first and foremost American and to me it was just absolutely intolerable ... I have to say I'm also so proud of the younger generations, yourselves included, for really stepping up to those comments because for every one negative comment tweet or post I received hundreds if not thousands of words of positive remarks and support and encouragement." [56] A St. Joseph Senior, Triston Corneman, was impressed by Davuluri's choice not to retaliate against those who attacked her, stating that she "showed that two hatreds don't make a kindness."[57]

Miss Kansas Theresa Vail denounced the social media backlash and offered her support for Davuluri.[58][59][60][61] U.S. Representative for New York's 3rd congressional district, Steve Israel also condemned the social media backlash.[62] In addition, actor and activist George Takei (Star Trek's Sulu) defended Davuluri in a post on Facebook.[63][64] Takei later appeared a joint ABC News interview with Davuluri, in which she revealed that she is a Trekkie. Davuluri ended the interview by stating, "I have to say 'Live Long and Prosper'" at which point Takei offered her the Vulcan salute, which she returned.[65]

"In India, the more fair you are, the more beautiful you are considered. They spend tons of money on lightening creams and bleaches. In America, we want to spend more on getting tan. It’s an idea of wanting what you can’t have [...] it’s an unrealistic expectation of beauty standards."

— Nina Davuluri [8]

A different discussion developed in India in response to Davaluri’s win with regard to her complexion. Moni Basu in CNN,[66] Rega Jha in BuzzFeed,[67] and Mallika Rao in The Huffington Post [68] all noted Davaluri’s win had “reignited”[66] a debate in social media over complexion-based discrimination in India. Mallika Kapur for Time stated that "many say" Davuluri "is too dark skinned to win" in India.[69] The editorial staff of The Hindu concurred, asking “if Ms Davuluri would have ever made it past the qualifying rounds of a beauty contest in India. In a country where a multi-crore rupee cosmetic industry thrives on promises of lightening a woman’s skin colour in 10, 20 or 30 days, it is fair to say that the dark complexioned 24-year-old would not have stood a chance.” [54] Dean of Yale Law School, Asha Rangappa, agreed, arguing that “despite being a country of almost a billion people, India has left it to America to crown the first Indian beauty queen who looks... well, Indian [....] Davuluri's title offers some vindication for the Indian women and girls whose value, according to Indian standards, has been eclipsed by the color of their skin.”[70] Ruchika Tulshyan also noted in Forbes that Davaluri “would unlikely be crowned a winner in a beauty pageant in India. The Asian subcontinent has always defined beauty by lighter skin color; Aishwarya Rai is a great example of this. The models, actresses and beauty pageant winners from India have usually had one thing in common – fair skin.”[71] Finally, Anitha Menon stated in The Michigan Daily that "in India, fair is beautiful; dark is irrelevant. Miss India, year after year, looks more white than Indian. The most recent Miss America, Nina Davuluri, is too “dusky” to ever win an Indian beauty pageant."[72]

While the Miss World (Reita Faria, 1966; Aishwarya Rai, 1994; Diana Hayden, 1997; Yukta Mookhey, 1999; Priyanka Chopra, 2000), Miss Universe (Sushmita Sen, 1994; Lara Dutta, 2000), and Miss Earth (Nicole Faria, 2010) pageants have showcased winners from India, Davuluri is the first Indian American to win the Miss America pageant [36][68][73] and the first to win the Miss New York title as well.[26] NPR's Michel Martin discussed the significance of the 2014 Miss America pageant in an interview with Davuluri. Martin noted that while Davuluri was not the first Asian American to be Miss America (the first was Filipino American Angela Perez Baraquio in 2001)[74] "there were" Martin said "five Asian-Americans competing for the crown. That's the highest number in pageant history. Three of you were in the top five. Two of you were the finalists, and this in a contest where initially the requirements were that contestants be of good health and of the white race."[26][75]

Davuluri is the second Miss Syracuse to win the Miss America title after Miss New York 1983, Vanessa Lynn Williams (the first African American winner and Miss America 1984).[76][77] Both she and Williams won when the pageant was held in Atlantic City and both faced a backlash over their respective wins.[76][77] In addition, Congresswoman Grace Meng compared Davuluri to Miss New York 1945, Bess Myerson (to date the only Jewish-American winner and Miss America 1945)[77][78] who also faced discrimination during her time as Miss America.[79][80][81][82][83]

In August 2014, fashion designer Tony Bowls announced that he designed a shoe in her honor called, "The Nina."[84][85]


"Last Tuesday, the first Indian Miss America, Nina Davuluri, came to speak at Yale University. She is also the first Miss America to receive xenophobic comments about being a terrorist or Muslim extremist. In addition to being all-around well spoken, graceful and sassy, she thoughtfully explained her platform of cultural competence and stressed that patiently answering people’s questions is one of the strongest ways to combat ignorance [....] Responding to offensive questions with tolerance and patience might be more effective than harsh words. As we can see from Davuluri’s response to her critics, tolerance begets tolerance."

—Lorraine James, a junior at Yale University, February 2014[2]

During her year of service, Davuluri spoke at various high schools and colleges to promote her platform ("Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency")[4][5][55][86] and STEM (the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to students).[87][88][89] She elaborated on this platform in a talk given at Yale University[90][91][2] as one which uses social media as a form of activism.[91][90][2] Describing it as her 'Circles of Unity' movement, Davuluri encourages students to see social media as a tool to spread cultural awareness and combat ignorance.[90] In a different interview, Davuluri stated that she "really hope[s] this dialogue creates a new positive and enlightening discussion via social media. I hope that people will understand that regardless of your different beliefs or backgrounds, we can all still communicate and respect one another in an open and honest manner. That’s not to say we have to agree with everyone’s beliefs, but I hope people will develop that fine line of respect and honesty."[92]

During one visit to Central York High School in Pennsylvania, 18-year-old student Patrick Farves was suspended after he asked Davuluri to his 2014 prom during a Q&A session.[93][94] Davuluri asked that the suspension be rescinded in a post on Facebook,[93] but school administrators stated that they must maintain a set level of expectations for student behavior.[94] Farves later stated that he regretted the joke as it overshadowed Davuluri's platform.[94]

Davuluri is also a spokeswoman for PETA, extending her campaign of "celebrating diversity" to the adopton of homeless dogs in animal shelters.[95]

On October 16, 2013, Davuluri met President Barack Obama through a joint meeting with the Children's Miracle Network Hospital Champions at the White House.[25][96][97] Obama previously met with Miss Americas Laura Marie Kaeppeler (2012), Caressa Cameron (2010), and Katie Stam (2009) during similar events.[98] [99][100] In addition, in March 2008, President George W. Bush met with Miss America Kirsten Haglund also for the same cause.[101]

Post-Miss America[edit]

In September 2014 after she completed her year as Miss America, Davuluri and PBS NewsHour Weekend anchor Hari Sreenivasan served as the Master of ceremonies for a talk given by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (as part of his first official visit to the United States since being denied a visa in 2005)[102] in New York City's Madison Square Garden.[103][104][105]

She continued to speak at colleges on a variety of topics. In an October 2014 talk for East Carolina University, Davuluri discussed the harassment that she faced during her childhood. Noting that she was "called everything from Miss 7-Eleven to a terrorist," Davuluri challenged her audience to stand up to stereotypes and bullying through language, as "words have power. Any time you speak, you are influencing someone."[23] Later, in November 2014, she spoke on the topic of women in STEM at Northeastern University.[106]

In February 2015, Davuluri was appointed as one of the new trustees to the Miss American Foundation Board.[107]

In March 2015, Davuluri spoke at Harvard and Princeton. Earlier in the month, she participated in the Harvard Undergraduate Council's "Side by Side" Gender Equality campaign.[108][109] A few weeks later, she spoke at Princeton as part of an event "sponsored by the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Understanding, the Princeton Women’s Mentorship Program, the Princeton Perspective Project, American Studies Program, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Committee, Butler College, Whig-Clio, the Women’s Center, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Princeton Hindu Satsangam and the Hindu Life Program as part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month."[16][110]

Further reading and viewing[edit]



Miss America 2014 and 2015

Response in the U.S.

Response in India

See also[edit]


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  5. ^ a b c d Tsering, Lisa (September 17, 2013). "Mahajan Choreographs Another Winning Performance". India-West. 
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  96. ^ "Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri Meets President Barack Obama at the White House for the Annual Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Celebration". Miss America. October 16, 2013. 
  97. ^ "Here's What You Missed During the Shutdown:Welcoming Miss America". The White House. October 18, 2013. 
  98. ^ "Miss America 2012 Laura Marie Kaeppeler Meets President Barack Obama at the White House for the Annual Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Celebration". Miss America. September 19, 2012. 
  99. ^ "Miss America 2010 Caressa Cameron Joins Children's Miracle Network to Meet with President Obama". Miss America. June 11, 2010. 
  100. ^ "Miss America 2009 Katie Stam Joins Children's Miracle Network to Meet with President Obama". Miss America. March 25, 2009. 
  101. ^ "Miss America 2008 Kirsten Haglund Meets President George W. Bush with the Children from Champions Across America". Miss America. March 18, 2008. 
  102. ^ Gowen, Annie (September 26, 2014). "India’s Modi begins rock star-like U.S. tour". Washington Post. 
  103. ^ Burke, Jason (September 28, 2014). "US turns on charm as Narendra Modi roadshow rolls into New York". The Guardian. 
  104. ^ Sinha, Shreeya (September 27, 2014). "Indian Leader Narendra Modi, Once Unwelcome in U.S., Gets Rock Star Reception". The New York Times. 
  105. ^ Pennington, Mathew (September 28, 2014). "India's Modi takes Madison Square Garden (+video)". Christian Science Monitor. 
  106. ^ Northeastern News (November 5, 2014). "Miss America visits Northeastern". Northeastern University. 
  107. ^ "Two Elected to Miss America Foundation Board of Trustees". Miss America Organization. February 27, 2015. 
  108. ^ Linek, Piotr (March 3, 2015). "UC Launches 'Side by Side' Gender Equality Campaign". The Harvard Crimson. 
  109. ^ "Join the Side by Side Launch on March 2nd (with Miss America!)". Harvard University Undergraduate Council. 2015. 
  110. ^ Sekhsaria, Shriya (March 31, 2015). "Q&A: Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri". The Daily Princetonian. 

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Mallory Hagan
Miss America
Succeeded by
Kira Kazantsev
Preceded by
Shannon Oliver
Miss New York
Succeeded by
Amanda Mason