A history of abusive hazing won’t stop Miss America from moving on
The mean girl won the beauty pageant. What a shock.
On Sept. 14 in Atlantic City, Kira Kazantsev became Miss America 2015. The contest featured nothing out of the ordinary: boobs, bikini butt glue and, of course, talent.
(Well, talent. Kazantsev sang the Pharrell Williams song “Happy” while sitting cross-legged on stage banging a single red cup on the floor. “I wanted every single little girl in America to be able to see that you ... can do whatever talent you want on national television -- even with a red cup -- and still be Miss America,” she said later.)
Barely more than a week into her reign, Kazantsev, 23, has found herself buffeted by two controversies. Neither is as fabulous as the one that engulfed another Miss New York, Vanessa Williams, after she became the first African American to win the pageant in 1983. Then again, no Miss America has ever been quite as fabulous as Williams, who relinquished her crown after some “artistic” but explicit photos depicting lesbian sex surfaced. She spit in the Puritanical pageant’s eye, becoming a successful actress and star of the musical stage.
But I digress.
The current Miss America’s woes began when an anti-abortion website revealed that she spent three months as a Planned Parenthood intern while attending Hofstra University. The information, according to Life News, came from her LinkedIn profile, which said she “conducted research on Planned Parenthood education” and “assisted delivery of programs in local public schools, teaching children about mutual respect and self-esteem.”
Well, good for her, you might be thinking. Not so fast. “So the woman representing the nation as the new Miss America interned for the very organization that has killed millions of Americans in abortions,” was Life News’ take. Anti-abortion groups jumped on the bandwagon, excoriating Kazantsev, the pageant and of course, Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood came to her defense, launching the hashtag #StandWithKira. Sam Haskell, the chairman and CEO of the Miss America Organization did as well: “Each Miss America takes a different path to the crown and Kira’s path is no less special,” Haskell said. “Kira’s college internship afforded her the opportunity to advocate against child abuse while writing her thesis.”
Kazantsev told Cosmopolitan she interned at Planned Parenthood because: “It was close to my university and I care about women’s health. It’s really important that teens know what resources are available to them and learn to be respectful of their bodies and other peoples’ bodies.”
Then, in an act of unmitigated courage, she deleted her LinkedIn profile.
But then Miss America found herself embroiled in a much more serious scandal. The website Jezebel reported this week that she had been kicked out of her college sorority for “abusive hazing.”
“In late April 2013,” Jezebel reported, “Kazantsev and a friend were both kicked out of the Alpha Phi sorority at Hofstra University on Long Island after hazing pledges. At the time, Kazantsev was serving as the sorority’s head of recruitment.”
According to Jezebel’s unnamed source: “Under Kira’s supervision … pledges in the incoming class were called names, berated for their perceived physical flaws and imperfections, and made to perform physical tasks to the point of bruising and exhaustion.” Kazantsev, said the source, made pledges’ lives “a living hell.”
On Tuesday, Miss America appeared on “Good Morning America.” She told Lara Spencer that while the specific accusations were untrue, “under the broad definition of hazing, yes, I was involved with some of those activities while I was at Hofstra.”
What, exactly, had she required pledges to do?
“You would stand in a line and basically recite information, or a few sleepless nights crafting, things that were like menial tasks. You were told that if you participate in these few traditional things, that you would be a member of the sorority.”
She said she was kicked out of Alpha Phi after making a joke in an email to some alumni about a sorority event where she would “make the evening scary for the new pledges.”
“Hazing is taken very seriously by the national organizations,” said Cincinnati attorney Tim Burke, whose firm hosts the National Anti-Hazing Hotline for some 40 national fraternities and sororities, 1-888-NOT-HAZE. “Over the years, there have been too many tragedies, and they are working very hard to end it. I have no idea what the details were with her. But if you are being berated, that is hazing.”
You might be surprised at some of the seemingly benign activities that are considered hazing these days.
“Typically,” Burke said, “hazing involves any forced activity that’s a condition for initiation or acceptance. That can range from simple things like scavenger hunts, being required to dress in funny or unusual clothes, having to work for the current members of the organization or be required to stay up late at night. And those are some of the most innocent things. The tragedies occur when there is a long period of strenuous physical activity, when it gets mixed with alcohol, or when people are dropped off and told to find their way back.”
“A few sleepless nights crafting,” sounds like hazing to me.
Rather than use the “GMA” interview as an opportunity to condemn hazing, or take responsibility for bad behavior, Kazantsev told Spencer she was a victim of hazing herself. She was, she said, “incredibly hurt” by the accusations.
“I was hazed, and I was brought up through the organization thinking that was appropriate behavior,” she said, explaining that it was simply “the culture.” (This excuse is tiresome. Sorority members such as Miss America choose to flout the rules. Her own sorority, Alpha Phi, is a sponsor of the anti-hazing hotline, which was established in 2007, long before she ever arrived at Hofstra.)
But don’t you worry. Kazantsev is moving on. “I am going to take this negative and turn it into a positive,” she told Spencer.
And what’s her message to young girls who might be upset about her hazing history? “It’s OK to make mistakes, ‘cause that’s life.”
Hey folks, you don’t get to be Miss America by being nice.
That’s how you get to be Miss Congeniality.
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