Chhavi Verg, a 20-year-old Miss New Jersey 2017 nearly won the 2017 Miss USA competition Sunday, May 14th in Las Vegas, but for the second year in a row, the crown and sash ended up going to Miss District of Columbia. Verg of Edison, who in October became the second Indian-American Miss New Jersey USA, emerged as first runner-up to Miss USA, Kara McCullough. And some say that given their answers to questions during the competition final, Jersey should have won.
During an evening that celebrated beauty and diversity Kara McCullough was crowned Miss USA 2017, while Chhavi Verg was adjudged the first runner-up on May 14 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Verg, wearing a sparkly black dress, stood alongside McCullough and Miss Minnesota, Meridith Gould, who was second runner-up, as the winner was announced. On Twitter, many seemed to be pulling for Miss New Jersey to take the title, especially after McCullough, who majored in chemistry at South Carolina State University and works as a scientist at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, referred to healthcare as a privilege, not a right (she was asked if it was a privilege or a right and why).
The Indian American student, of Edison, N.J., who bested 49 other contestants but ultimately lost the title to Miss District of Columbia Kára McCullough during a night full of glitz and glamor, ended up winning the popular vote on social media with her phenomenal poise, elegance and intelligence. The second runner-up was Miss Minnesota Meridith Gould.
A student at Rutgers University studying marketing and Spanish, Verg is a total fitness freak, a certified personal trainer, and a Bharatanatyam dancer. She also runs a health/fitness website, which features vegan/vegetarian recipes and other healthy living tips and tricks. She used the platform to address the faceless demon called cyberbullying.
“With social media, I believe it has given us so much power in this world, but with great power comes great responsibility and I have seen both ends of social media,” said Verg. “For me, it has been one of the most empowering experiences because I have met so many empowered women, but at the same time, I have also been a victim of cyberbullying like many of the contestants with me standing on this stage. Social media is again a privilege, it’s something you have to be careful of, you can’t just say anything just because you are anonymous, and once we realize that, that’s when we can truly live in a better world for everyone.”
After these answers, both the contestants moved on to the top three spots, where they were asked the same question, “What do you consider feminism to be, and do you consider yourself a feminist?” McCullough said: “I don’t want to call myself a feminist,” she said. “Women, we are just as equal as men, especially in the workplace.”
Verg, who is strong proponent of female empowerment through education, said: “Feminism is striving for equality and I do consider myself a feminist. I think it’s a misconception when people believe that feminism is women being better than men. But it’s really not. It’s a fight for equality. And we need to realize that if we want a stable society, a better future for every single individual, we need to be equal. And that’s why I advocate for education for women, because women are still held back in places of the world. They still don’t have that right to their independence, that right to their equality, all because of education. And once we do take that step, I believe that an equal world will be a better world.”
Though McCullough’s answers may have helped her clinch the crown, they also sparked a row on social media, with netizens mostly criticizing her for both her answers, and at the same time lauding Verg for hers. “#MissUSA Miss DC just lost me with that answer…Affordable healthcare is a privilege? Girl bye,” wrote one user on Twitter. Few went as far as saying that “Miss New Jersey was robbed” of her title.
“I want to show Americans that the definition of what it means to be American is changing,” Verg said. “It’s not just one face. There are many different people who are Americans, and I feel like Asian-Americans often-times are left out of the conversation.”