In Bernie Wayne's 1955 song, "There She Is," Miss America (opens in new tab) is called many things: ideal, the queen of femininity, the fairest of the fair. But this year's Miss America Kira Kazantsev has garnered a whole new nickname: bully.
A day after she won the crown, Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan reported (opens in new tab) that Kazantsev and a friend were both kicked out of the Alpha Phi sorority (opens in new tab) at Hofstra University in New York in April 2013 for hazing. An unnamed source told Jezebel that while serving as Alpha Phi's Recruitment Committee President, Kazantsev and her friend were "exceptionally harsh toward the pledges," calling them names, berating them for perceived physical flaws and imperfections, and making them perform physical tasks to the point of bruising and exhaustion."
The source goes on to tell Jezebel that someone reported Kazantsev and her friend for "dirty pledging," which led to a months-long investigation after which both women were expelled from the sorority.
When Jezebel contacted Miss America for a response, they said:
"Kira has been fully transparent with the MissAmerica Organization about her termination from the Alpha Phi sorority. It's unfortunate that this incident has been exploited to create a storyline that distracts from what we should be focusing on: Kira's impressive academic achievements at Hofstra University, including earning a triple major from the Honors College and her commitment to serving her community. Kira is an exceptional ambassador for the MissAmerica Organization, and we are excited to be a part of her journey as a force for good across our nation, promoting education and service and working to empower young women."
For her part, Kazantsev responded to the hazing allegations on her blog (opens in new tab) confirming that she was indeed kicked out of the sorority and did participate in hazing, but that it was less severe than what has been reported.
Kazantsev starts her post by recapping the whirlwind week she's had so far, and then gets into the issue at hand. She says she was hazed upon joining Alpha Phi, and that the "worst of the so-called hazing was standing in a line reciting information, a few sleepless nights, and crafting." (Crafting? I guess she feels the same way I do about tedious tasks such as quilting…) Years later, Kazantsev says that because she and her fellow sisters were "brought up through that process" they thought the "only way to gain respect in the sorority" was to similarly haze the women who came behind them. (Otherwise they may have been seen as "weak," she says.) But, Kazantsev maintains, she was "never involved with any name-calling or use of profanity toward a girl during my time with the sorority." She was also "never involved in any physical hazing or any degradation of physical appearance of any kind."
Further, Kazantsev says was kicked out of her sorority not for hazing, but for an email she sent inviting alumni to an event where she wrote that the event could be made "scary for pledges." Kazantsev says that was a joke and "we never intended to actually engage in the wrongful behavior that I have been accused of — and the alumni event I spoke of never came to fruition anyway."
We'll never know for sure the degree of hazing that went on behind the closed doors of Kazantsev's sorority (opens in new tab), but the Jezebel report has rightly tipped off a debate over whether Kazantsev is deserving of a crown that brands her as a role model from the moment it is placed on her head. After all, hazing in the Greek system is a very serious issue, one that causes untold amounts of humiliation, violence, injury, sexual assault, and even death (opens in new tab), and thus should not be tolerated at any level.
On the other hand, if Kazantsev apologizes for what she did as a college student (which she failed to do in the blog post), and dedicates her reign to working against such abusive practices (which could easily be folded into her official anti-domestic violence platform), then some good could come from her time wearing the crown. As she wrote, "What type of role model would I be if I told people, young women especially, that you can't make mistakes?" Indeed, and as a role model, she now has the opportunity to demonstrate what matters most after you make a "mistake": apologizing to those you may have wronged and working hard to ensure no one else has the chance to commit a similar offense. Brushing aside the hazing, even if it was minor, will only serve to perpetuate the practice.
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Photo via Getty Images
Kayla Webley Adler is the Deputy Editor of ELLE magazine. She edits cover stories, profiles, and narrative features on politics, culture, crime, and social trends. Previously, she worked as the Features Director at Marie Claire magazine and as a Staff Writer at TIME magazine.
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