Students gathered in the Michigan Union Friday night for the first Miss Phi Beta Sigma Scholarship Pageant at the University, hosted by Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. The event aimed to address issues of domestic and sexual violence.

Engineering junior Andre Brooks, Phi Beta Sigma secretary, said the fraternity wanted to spread awareness and instigate dialogue about domestic and sexual abuse, as well as address stigma around pageantry.

“What we’ve chosen to focus on here today was domestic and sexual violence awareness, and it’s because it’s partially underrated here on campus,” Brooks said. “We’d really like to bring that to the forefront and actually highlight the beauty and the power that come from women.”

The event featured students both from the University and other local institutions, with the winner receiving a $1,000 scholarship.

The evening consisted of several portions: Q&A, swimwear, talent and evening gown. During the talent portion, participants shared a diverse range of skills, from reading original poems and narratives to baking a pie.

Throughout the night, several of the participants also opened up about their own experiences with abuse. The first contestant, Lexus Dennis, a Wayne State University junior, said she witnessed the dangers of domestic violence first hand at the age of nine when her mother was hospitalized for an entire week.

“Being someone who’s gone through and been a part of both domestic and sexual abuse, I felt it was necessary for me to play my part and help bring awareness to it,” Dennis said.

Public Policy senior Hattie McKinney also shared a personal experience of dating violence from her freshman year — a story she said she told to express support for other survivors.

She said she competed in the pageant because she identified with the cause.

“I’ve been in the position, unfortunately, to have been violated,” McKinney said. “I know people that have as well, and just for them, I wanted to put myself out there and represent. I want people to be more cognizant of what they say and do because violating a person and putting them in that position where they feel harmed and naked in a sense … it’s something that we need to eradicate in our society.”

Runner-up Capri’Nara Kendall, a Kinesiology senior, shared a story of her grandmother’s 10-year battle with domestic violence. She became visibly emotional as she read an original piece about the experience, describing the pain associated with her memories.

Kendall said she supported the topics addressed by the pageant because the theme personally resonated with her, as well as support for her friends and the members of Phi Beta Sigma.

“I’m not a pageant girl,” she said. “I did this because I believe in support and community.”

At the end of the night, McKinney was crowned Miss Phi Beta Sigma. She expressed appreciation for the opportunity to be part of the event and the recipient of the $1,000 scholarship awarded to the winner.

“It feels surreal because I was extremely nervous,” McKinney said. “I’m extremely floored and honored to be able to be Miss Phi Beta Sigma.”

LSA senior Chelsea Baytemur, a pageant judge, said regardless of contestants’ motivations for competing, the event served to create an important space for issues of abuse to be brought to light and discussed.

“There’s a lot of stigma around just coming out and speaking of it,” Baytemur said. “Hopefully by these women talking about it, it might make others more motivated to seek resources on campus and just empower them.”

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