On Monday, Sept. 13, the Southern Utah University Student Programming Board announced that they will combine the Mr. and Miss SUU competitions into the new, inclusive Homecoming Royalty Pageant. All SUU students, regardless of gender identity, are invited to participate in the event that will be held on Sept. 21.
The change comes with the renewed effort of the SUU Student Association, the umbrella organization for SPB, to put more emphasis on diversity and inclusion in on-campus events and initiatives. Student Involvement and Leadership Coordinator Madison Maynard said that the switch is essential for making all students feel welcome in every aspect of campus life.
“SPB feels that the rebranding of this now all-inclusive pageant is a great diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative,” Maynard said. “Same as every year, judges will be looking for students who are willing to share what makes them unique and special.”
The initial student response has been overwhelmingly positive, with many T-Birds expressing that the rebranded event will be a unifying experience for Homecoming Week. One of those students is Tanner Hallam, a nonbinary student who uses they/them pronouns, who chose to participate in the Mr. SUU Pageant last year despite the gendered categories.
“It was a big step for me to compete last year,” Hallam said. “I actually wore a skirt as a sort of rebellion against those requirements for only men and women to compete.”
While students may be concerned that combining the two assemblies will cause a conflicting ambiance, event planners assure that the benefits of inclusivity far outweigh the costs. Rachel Belnap, the SPB event director running Homecoming, says that the event is an opportunity to make all participants feel comfortable being themselves.
“We know that the Mr. and Miss Pageants have been different in the past,” Belnap said. “But we would much rather find a happy medium between the two styles rather than continue a tradition that not everyone can see themselves represented in.”
The pageant will still feature an opening number, spirit wear, talent, and an on-stage question. Judges will look for individual personality in the opening number and spirit wear portions of the competition. During the talent portion, judges will look for students to share a special skill they have. Finally, judges will look for students who can eloquently represent the student body during their on-stage question.
“Everyone deserves to have a place at their university,” Hallam said. “These changes don’t harm anyone, it only makes it so more people can be proud of where they go to school.”
Story by Aspen English
Photos provided by the Student Programming Board