Rather than under the stage lights, the winner of the 2020 Miss East Carolina University pageant will be crowned via live stream at 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 19 on the pageant’s Instagram and Facebook pages.
The pageant was originally scheduled for March 22, but was postponed to September when campus closed due to the spread of COVID-19. The event was then moved to a virtual format after the university moved undergraduate classes online on Aug. 23.
Tiffany Robertson, the current Miss ECU and President of the CrownMe organization, the group which hosts the Miss ECU pageant, is also a junior special education adapted curriculum major. She said the move to a virtual format has changed the pageant in several ways, including the elimination of the fitness and on-stage question portions of the competition.
“They (participants) sent in videos of their talent and their evening gown that were sent to the judges, and then they are doing interviews through WebEx and then awards will be livestreamed on Facebook live and Instagram live,” Robertson said. “So, nothing is going to be in person, which I hate for the girls, but it’s just the best way to keep everybody safe.”
The contestants have continued to prepare for the pageant since October 2019, Robertson said. After being accepted, the contestants participate in a series of workshops throughout the fall semester on topics such as time-management, confidence and resume building. Practices for the pageant begin in the spring, but took place before the spike of COVID-19.
Robertson said each award recipient receives a scholarship, which have varying total amounts. She said this year, Miss ECU will receive a scholarship of over $1,000.
The Miss ECU pageant is more than a scholarship opportunity; the CrownMe organization works to make connections with and between contestants Robertson said.
“They are the most encouraging girls you will ever meet even though you are competing against them, like you’re rooting for each other,” Robertson said. “They are the best hype women, like they will hype you up, and it’s the most amazing thing.”
Senior nutrition and dietetics major Rosi Vega, who is also a contestant in this year’s pageant, said the camaraderie between the contestants is one of the most important benefits of Miss ECU. She said she met her best friend through the pageant.
With the move to a virtual format, Vega said she believes the “crowning moment” will be the most difficult aspect of the pages to replicate. The contestants won’t be in the same place physically for the crowning but will tune in to the livestreams to hear the results.
“The winner is not going to be with Tiffany (Robertson), the current Miss ECU, to get crowned and like, yeah you’ll probably get the reaction, but you are not able to catch the moment where the old Miss ECU crowns the new one,” Vega said. “I feel like there’s a special significance behind it and it's really upsetting that that won’t be able to happen this year.”
Each contestant has a platform they would base their community service efforts on if they win. Vega said as a survivor of ulcerative colitis, her platform is to spread awareness of the condition and to empower women through whatever adversity they may face in their lives.
Hannah Dixon, a pageant contestant and junior elementary education major, said her platform would stem from her major. She said she would serve children in need and continue to be a good role model to young women if she took the crown. She said she has found there are many benefits to being in the Miss ECU pageant.
“I feel like I can talk to people so much easier. I'm more confident in myself and my ability,” Dixon said. “I really just think it’s not so much you know the money you get from the scholarships or all of that, it’s really just personal growth that you get out of it. I think that’s the most important thing.”
Dixon said, under the current circumstances, she thinks the transition to a virtual format was the best choice to keep everyone safe. She said she is disappointed to see the pageant happen virtually, but will continue to try to remain positive in regards to the changes.
Miss ECU Contestant Hailee Austin, who is also a junior hospitality management major, said she first heard about the pageant when she was a senior in high school. Both her parents are ECU alumni, and she said if she won the crown it could be her opportunity to leave her mark on the university.
“Coming onto campus, it sounds stupid, but I kind of was like, I want to leave a legacy, like, I want to do something that people are like, ‘oh yeah, Hailee Austin did that.’ I think getting involved with Miss ECU, if I were to win, would give me the platform to do that,” Austin said.
The aspect of the Miss ECU pageant Austin said she appreciated most is the relationships she was able to form with the other contestants. She said they all come from such a wide variety of backgrounds and majors that they probably would never have met if it wasn’t for the pageant.
For her platform, Austin said she would focus on mental health awareness and plan to work with ECU’s Center for Counseling and Student Development to improve its programs and student accessibility for those who may struggle with their mental health.
“My biggest thing is working with the counseling center in order to bring better resources on campus for students battling mental health, I’m one of those people and I think that counseling center is a really great place but I think there’s a lot of things they could work on to make it more accessible to students,” Austin said.