University course focuses on beauty pageants

Miss America 1998 Kate Shindle (right) speaks to Prof. Hilary Levey Friedman's class on beauty pageants at Brown University. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News
Miss America 1998 Kate Shindle (right) speaks to Prof. Hilary Levey Friedman’s class on beauty pageants at Brown University. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News


By Steve Klamkin WPRO News

Students majoring in business, sciences and American studies at one Ivy League school are taking a different kind of course, as Brown University offers “Beauty Pageants in American Society”, and in a recent class got to hear from a former Miss America.

Kate Shindle, Miss America 1998 spoke to the 16 women enrolled in Prof. Hilary Levey Friedman’s class, which looks at how and why pageantry and femininity have become linked in the public consciousness.

“It’s such a cool experience for me to sit down with these smart, young women and talk about this institution that taught me how to be a smart, autonomous young woman… many moons ago, Shindle said. “And I like hearing what they have to say.

The course is being offered for the first time in the fall term at Brown.

“It’s a serious treatment of beauty pageants, and it’s putting beauty pageants into context,” said Friedman. “It’s thinking about changes in femininity over time, how does this link up to other pop culture phenomenon, like The Real Housewives, like The Bachelor?”

Students welcomed Shindle’s appearance in class.

“I’ve actually competed in the Miss America system, and it’s cool to see one of your role models here in class,” said Cara Mund, a senior from North Dakota majoring in business entrepreneurship organization.

“We have a whole range of students,” said Friedman, “from neuroscientists and immunobiologists to American studies and literary arts and archaeologists.”

Students read Shindle’s book, “Being Miss America”, to prepare for her appearance. She spent about an hour and a half in a recent class, talking about the rush in the minutes immediately after winning the title, to championing the cause of AIDS and HIV prevention during her year as Miss America, to her dealings with pageant leaders and fellow Miss Americas.

“I’m not really surprised by the fact that the students here at Brown asked some really great, probing, intelligent questions, and I was really excited when Hilary asked me to do this, because I thought this is the kind of place that I dreamed my book would be part of the curriculum.”

“I love it that she was so passionate about the platform issue,” said Alexandra Coppa, a junior from Cranston, Rhode Island whose major is neuroscience.

“I thought this class was really interesting and I always like to take a class that’s outside the realm of pre-med,” said Coppa. “I’ve competed in beauty pageants, so this is the perfect class for me.”


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