Ahead of 100th Miss America competition, Miss Utah reflects on history of the pageant

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Sasha Sloan, Miss Utah, photo by Chad Braithwaite, Faces Photography

UTAH (ABC4) – When most Americans think of the Miss America pageant, images of perfectly coiffed, made-up beauties traipsing across a stage in bikinis might come to mind.

Although this is certainly representative of the competition in years past, the famous pageant has made some changes in response to general widespread shifts in the cultural consciousness. This has resulted in a new type of Miss America – one that evaluates characteristics like social impact and talent above physical appearance – and one that Miss Utah Sasha Sloan is proud to be a part of.

“I think it’s a tremendous step in the right direction,” she says of the 2019 move to eliminate the swimsuit competition and shift the pageant’s focus. “As a woman, I measure my value by what I can contribute to the world, the substance of who I am, my intellect, and my resume. I am very excited that the Miss America competition reflects that.”

In just over a week, Sloan will travel to Uncasville, Connecticut to represent Utah in the 100th annual Miss America contest. And she isn’t just there to speak for native Utahns like herself.

A central element of Sloan’s Miss America campaign is her social impact initiative, Refugees Welcome, a project focused on spreading awareness about the global refugee crisis, advocating on part of refugees and asylum seekers, and challenging common stereotypes about these individuals.

Miss Utah has traveled to all corners of the state partnering with various local nonprofits that align with her social justice project. In Salt Lake City, she has volunteered with Women of the World, which provides services to female refugees in the area. Sloan also joined forces with the national refugee advocacy organization Their Story is Our Story to create a curriculum for Utah schools that educates students on the refugee crisis, in addition to providing them with information on ways to greet newcomers from different cultures and ways to be more inclusive in the classroom.

“I designed my social impact initiative to help Utahns and Americans contextualize the global migration crisis,” Sloan tells ABC4.com. “I designed it so that they can learn what it means to be a refugee and asylum seeker, to fight back against stereotypes and misconceptions, and mostly to spread the truth about the actual data and science about immigration.”

And though she speaks on behalf of both refugees and Utahns, Sloan draws a connection between the two. She wants to remind all Utah residents that our state was, in fact, formed by Latter-day Saint refugees fleeing persecution in Nauvoo, Illinois.

“Utah was actually founded by refugees, and so having a welcoming attitude towards asylum seekers and migrants is an idea that’s very central to the history of this state,” Sloan says.

What once began as a “bathing beauty revue” is now an opportunity for driven young women like Sloan to expand their reach and make a difference in the world. Miss Utah is currently finishing up her senior year at Brigham Young University and hopes to work in politics or news media upon graduation. She feels that Miss America allows her a platform to amplify the voices of others and also propels her towards her future goals.

“In many ways, I would say that Miss America was the original influencer,” Sloan says. “The history of Miss America is that she has both influenced American thought and culture and been influenced by it. We’ve seen the competition evolve as we’ve seen the role of women evolve in society. Today, Miss America is able to use the national platform and leverage of the media attention to advocate on behalf of whatever her social impact initiative is.”

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