USF Pageant welcomes students of all gender identities following event name change

The Center for Student Involvement made changes to the pageant’s name and social media protocols to make the USF Pageant more accessible and inclusive to students. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

The annual pageant held by USF has always sought to give students the spotlight to address changes they want to see in the world. This year, the Center for Student Involvement (CSI) directors are making a change themselves to usher the pageant into a new era.  

The Mr. and Miss USF Pageant has been an annual tradition at USF since it was revived in 2008 after a five-year hiatus. In order to advocate for inclusion and encourage students of any gender identity to apply, CSI decided to change the name of the event to the USF Pageant. The event will take place Feb. 25 via Microsoft Teams at 7 p.m. 

The USF Pageant is an event that allows students to advocate for philanthropies they care about. The event consists of a private interview portion where students answer questions regarding their values, a talent showcase, an active wear demonstration and a formal wear demonstration. 

Winners are selected by three judges based on academic achievement, involvement, service and school spirit. 

Applications for the pageant opened Nov. 24, accompanied by the announcement of the name change as well as changes to social media campaigning and the requirement of mandatory meetings.

Campus Activities Board Coordinator Alexis Fuentes was an advocate for changing the name of the event to account for the university’s diverse population of students since the start of the conversation.

“This year, we really wanted to make sure that students of all identities feel represented,” Fuentes said. “As a queer man myself, I feel like it’s really important to have that representation within our events for students of all identities, so we decided to get rid of the prefixes, Mr. and Miss, in the event name to align ourselves with the Principles of Community, which seek inclusion for the broadest possible range of diverse lived experiences, thoughts and values.” 

This is the CSI’s second title change in the past two years to align with the Principles of Community and encourage students of all identities to participate in its events.

The first change, made in October 2019, consisted of replacing USF’s homecoming titles of king and queen to homecoming royalty. Fuentes said the decision to change the pageant name and titles of winners came over the summer, when the university as a whole began taking larger strides toward embracing diversity. 

“We realized that students do not always feel or do not always align themselves with male or female,” he said. “We wanted students to make sure that when they saw this event, that they felt seen and included within the event name.” 

One section of the application process asks students to type in their preferred pronouns. This section also includes a hyperlink which will guide the reader to if they would like to know more about the subject or learn about why the field is included. 

Winners of the event will receive a title, and the sash they wear will correspond with the pronouns submitted in the application. 

“If a student identifies as female, we’ll give them a ‘Miss USF.’ If they identify as male ‘Mr. USF.’ And if they don’t identify within any gender ‘Mx. USF,’” Fuentes said. “We’ve seen that students who don’t align or who don’t always identify as male or female prefer that prefix, and that’s from the research that we’ve done, but the sashes will be dependent on what the student decides they want to be and how they want the sash to look.” 

The 2020 winners of the pageant were pleased with the decision to change the name, citing it as another step toward equal representation. 

Christina Stokes, 2020 Miss USF, said this change shows CSI is “fostering an environment inclusive to all students.” 

“As a previous winner, I think this change is powerful for USF and it is important because language shapes our society,” she said. “Language can create a harmful environment but, when used properly, language can be powerful.” 

Jonathan Borelly Gerlein, 2020 Mr. USF, is one of the vice presidents of programming at CSI and leads the “traditions side” of the office. In this position, he and his colleagues were vocal about the need for change and were involved in the decision-making process. 

He said that the new name of the event was a much-needed improvement. 

“This change was possible because the directors at CSI strongly believe and work hard to make this university a safer and more welcoming space for everyone no matter sexual orientation, race, class and proven by this change, gender identity,” Gerlein said. “I can only foresee the pageant getting better and better because this will allow many people to participate, no matter how they identify themselves.” 

A few other parts of the event like social media campaigning also changed. Students will not be able to campaign on their own accounts like they have in years past — now they will be required to make a new separate account if they are chosen as a candidate to campaign. Given the virtual nature of the pageant, online campaigning through social media will be important, according to Fuentes. 

“We know that students have different amounts of followers, someone can have 10,000 while someone else can have 2,000, so we want to ensure that students start at the same level and foundation when they campaign.” 

A “Fan Favorite Award” has also been implemented in the competition. Students will be able to vote for their favorite contestants based on social media campaigns. 

Along with the new award, all preparation events, including interview practices and rehearsals, are now mandatory for students, when previously they were not required. This year, all mandatory meetings will be held virtually. 

Gerlein encourages others to participate in the pageant, especially now that students of all identities are encompassed in the event’s title.

“You get to meet others similar to yourself that care for USF deeply and it gives you a platform to really push those philanthropies you are passionate about,” he said. “It allows you the position to create the change you want to see in the world.” 

Fuentes hopes the changes to the event reflect the ideals of students and other members of the university. 

“We just want to make sure that as an office and a center we are keeping our values consistent and that students see the name and realize that anyone can apply to be a candidate for the pageant,” he said.