What it means to be American

Racial comments explode on social media

The 2013 Miss America pageant brought an onslaught of racial posts that swept across social media after the first Indian American winner was announced.

The Miss America controversy was one reason the Office of Housing and Residence Life’s Harmony Project was inspired to put on the Ferris exhibit “What it means to be American,” according to Taggart and Pickell Hall Director Emma Mentley.

“#MissAmerica ummm wtf?! Have we forgotten 9/11?” someone tweeted as posted in the exhibit. “This is Miss America… Not Miss Foreign Country,” another tweeted.

Nina Davuluri, an American- born citizen, won the 2013 Miss America Pageant. The exhibit displayed the backlash of fellow American citizens’ comments on the pageant. All were sparked by xenophobia, according to the exhibit.

Xenophobia, as defined on an exhibit poster, is “an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or that which is foreign or strange.”

A Coca-Cola ad depicted people from all different backgrounds singing “America the Beautiful” in their respective languages. People took to social media to express their opinions on the ad.

“This, unfortunately, brought out the ugly in the USA,” a poster read. “Many people wrote hateful, xenophobic comments such as ‘We speak ENGLISH here, IDIOTS.’ Unbeknownst to most of these people, the USA doesn’t even have an official language.”

Many people seem to have a skewed idea of what it means to be an American, as the exhibit portrayed.

“[Students should be informed] so they act their part and don’t make their country look stupid in how they act,” Ferris dental hygiene sophomore Abby Westerbeek said.

America can be known as the “melting pot,” but according to the exhibit, the term “salad bowl” better represents the United States. Each person brings their own culture to make up the entirety, each bringing their own “ingredient.”

“America is a land of plural races and ethnicities, with a multicultural context,” a poster read.

Being an American means to be free, according to Westerbeek.

“I think it [being an American] means to be free and be yourself all the time but also to know why,” Ferris mathematics education freshman Rachael Reidt said. “Everyone should be informed on history. I think a crucial part of being an American is knowing history.

According to Hall Director of Hallisy and Vandercook Halls and the next academic year lead of the Harmony Project Kathryn Van Ness, there are no concrete plans for the fall exhibits, but she hopes to do one on world religions and belief systems and another on local, state and national politics.

“Harmony Project is a very student driven group and it’s very important to me to keep that element of harmony going,” Van Ness said.

Mentley said understanding the history and cultures in the United States was important for this exhibit.

“I hope students gained a greater understanding of United States history, discovered opportunities within citizenship, as well as increased practice of challenging one’s perceptions,” Mentley said.