Earlier this month, Hampton University, a historically black college, selected its first non-black homecoming queen. Nikole Churchill’s victory triggered a beauty pageant walkout and led Churchill to write a public letter to President Barack Obama in which she claimed Obama would be able to relate to the racism she was facing at the university.
Churchill competed against nine black students in the 15th annual Miss Hampton University scholarship pageant and won a $1,500 scholarship. The pageant included evening gown, swimsuit and talent competitions. Churchill will serve as the homecoming queen Oct. 24 and participate in the 2010 Miss Virginia Pageant.
Churchill attends Hampton’s Virginia Beach campus. While some feel that her victory embodies Hampton University’s spirit of diversity, others complain that she does not attend the main campus, located in Hampton.
The main campus has about 5,700 students, while the Virginia Beach campus accomodates only 90 students.
“They’re saying that people don’t know who she is, people don’t even see her, so how can she represent us if she’s not even from the main campus?” Hampton sophomore Juan Diasgranados said.
Diasgranados said a noticeable number of students walked out of the pageant when Churchill was crowned. He, however, was among the majority who stood and applauded. Approximately 900 students attended the pageant in Ogden Hall.
Two of the nine contestants scowled for the traditional portraits of winners and runners-up.
Churchill, whose father is from Guam and whose mother is Italian, who grew up in Hawaii. Her Hawaiian background led Hampton University students to nickname her “Lil Obama.”
In her letter to the president, Churchill invited Obama to speak about racial tolerance at the university. The letter was posted Sunday on Congress.org.
Brittany Riddock, a second-year student at Hampton, told the Washington Post that there was “no comparison between a black man becoming president and a white woman winning a beauty pageant at a black school.”
Churchill is not the first non-black student to become homecoming queen at a historically black college.
In April, Kentucky State University elected Elisabeth Martin as its 80th homecoming queen, making her the first white student to win.