Former Miss New Jersey tells her story and celebrates diversity

By Sarah Siock

Students were given the opportunity to see beyond the glitz of the beauty pageant industry in a virtual sit-down interview with former Miss New Jersey Chhavi Verg.

Verg entered the beauty pageant circuit when she was in high school and before she knew it, she was competing in the Miss USA competition. Only a few years after entering her first pageant, Verg became the second Indian American Miss New Jersey and went on to be the first runner-up in the 2017 Miss USA competition.

Now Verg uses her platform to advocate for women’s rights and South Asian representation in the entertainment industry.

Verg shared her story with Rider students on Sept.18 at an event called “Chat with Chhavi.” Junior digital marketing major Alyssa Unciano organized the event as the cultural chair of the Student Entertainment Council.

“I really hold myself to create a safe space and platform that allows minorities to speak about their own stories. I also want to find relatable celebrities that can influence and educate others. This was the entire purpose of the event,” said Unciano.

“Chat with Chhavi” was styled as a virtual Q&A with Verg covering topics ranging from diversity and colorism to immigration. Students were able to join via Zoom to ask Verg questions. Unciano aimed for the event to give representation and educate students about these subjects.

Originally, Unciano planned for the event to be called “Rider Runway” with Verg as the host. “Rider Runway” was set to be a cultural beauty pageant where participants showed off their traditional clothing. However, the event was put on hold due to a low number of student participants. Unciano decided to transform the event into a sitdown interview with Verg.

“I really pushed and did not give up on this event. Chhavi is a knowledgeable and educated speaker who has her own story to tell. I cannot stress how important it is for students to know about the topics she discussed,” said Unciano.

During “Chat with Chhavi,’’ Verg shared her experiences beyond the glamour of the pageant industry.

She spoke about her immigration journey from India to the United States as well as social injustices seen today.

“Many immigrant children can relate to not feeling fully American. I had this strong desire to win Miss USA and show the world that the stereotypical view of what an American looks like is changing,” said Verg. “America is made up of all different minorities, and we are just as American. To have the opportunity to share that message was very important to me.”

Verg told students that her parents had little money after they moved to New Jersey from India. She was just 4 years old, and her parents worked around the clock to make ends meet.

“It takes a lot of guts to drop everything you know and move your whole family to a place where you do not know anything. I find it so inspiring that my parents were able to do that,” Verg said.

A large portion of the event focused on Verg’s thoughts regarding colorism in the beauty industry. Verg shared stories regarding colorism in her life as well as ways to bring awareness to the racial biases in the industry.

“Social media can help in ending colorism. That just comes through seeing more representation and really challenging these beliefs. The people who are ignorant and still holding these beliefs in place need to be held accountable,” she said.

Participants at “Chat with Chhavi” felt the event was a welcoming environment to address these issues.

“It was interesting to hear from someone who is a woman of color talking about colorism, racism and sexism. It was very impactful to hear how these different topics impacted Chhavi’s life,” said Suchitha Kumar, a senior psychology major.

Unciano added that she is striving to give more minority representation by planning events that are similar to “Chat with Chhavi.” Next month, Unciano booked Akeem Olaj, a spoken word artist, to deliver an education of social injustices through poetry.

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