Oops. It turns out that the new Miss America has more resume problems.
In a media kit for Kira Kazantsev, the beauty pageant organization lists a variety of her achievements. A special highlight is “Leadership Roles.” It says she was the “Alpha Phi Sorority New Member Educator and Recruitment Committee President.” The only problem is that she was fired from that role and banned from further participation with that sorority in April 2013.
The liberal feminist website Jezebel discovered this when they noted an odd lack of congratulatory statements made by the sorority after Kazantsev’s Miss America win:
…neither the national Alpha Phi organization nor the Hofstra branch of Alpha Phi (Theta Mu) publicly acknowledged that one of their own had just won the most prestigious beauty pageant in the world; nor did the local chapter and national organization recognize Kazantsev’s considerable achievement. The organization’s affiliated foundation was also silent, despite the fact that pictures of Kazantsev participating in Alpha Phi events are all over Facebook.
Jezebel’s investigation found:
After returning from her fall 2012 study abroad semester in Spain, Kazantsev began her term as Alpha Phi’s Recruitment Committee President for the incoming pledges. Kazantsev and her best friend (another Alpha Phi sister who was also her roommate), our source says, were exceptionally harsh toward the pledges. (In the tipster’s words, they made the recruits’ lives “a living hell.”) Under Kira’s supervision, according to the source, pledges in the incoming class were called names, berated for their perceived physical flaws and imperfections, and made to perform physical tasks to the point of bruising and exhaustion—standard sorority pledge stuff paid forward by a person who our source says was herself brutally hazed upon entry into Alpha Phi.
There are a couple points that Jezebel seems to have gotten wrong in their reporting. First, they say Kazantsev did a fall 2012 study abroad semester. But Kazantsev’s old, now deleted blog seems to indicate it was in the early months of 2012 that she was in Spain, not in the late ones. (See the archived screenshot below.)
Second, Jezebel also continues on in the article to describe fantastical scenes of sorority hazing that their informants claim occurred at Hofstra, though not necessarily in the sorority that Kazantsev joined. But the hazing they describe sounds like wild urban legend, with tales of rejecting pledges deemed to be lesbians and then forcing all the remaining pledges to perform oral sex on the sorority members. I mean, come on. That’s just ludicrous, even if Jezebel says they have more than one source for that story. It calls into question the truthfulness of those sources, but it’s hard to determine if they were the ones also giving information about Kazantsev or if they were only speaking about the Greek system at Hofstra during that time.
But Jezebel did get the dismissal from the sorority right. They report:
When someone reported Kazantsev and her friend for “dirty pledging,” Hofstra didn’t turn a blind eye. After a months-long investigation into their actions, our source says, the pair was expelled from Alpha Phi in late 2013 and told they could no longer participate in any sorority activities, including the end-of-year formal. Kira and her bestie attended the formal, anyway, but had to sneak in with their dates.
The Miss America Organization fully admits that Kazantsev was “terminated” from her sorority, but then instead of addressing it, they weirdly try to draw the Wizard of Oz curtain closed by blaming the scandal on the people reporting what the pageant has tried to hide (if they even knew about her expulsion before they crowned her). In a statement that they released to numerous news organizations picking up on the Jezebel scoop, the pageant said:
Kira has been very open and candid about her termination from the Alpha Phi sorority. It’s unfortunate that this incident has been exploited to create a storyline that distracts from what we should be focusing on: Kira’s impressive academic achievements at Hofstra University, including earning a triple major from the Honors College and her commitment to serving her community. Kira is an exceptional ambassador for the MissAmerica Organization, and we are excited to be a part of her journey as a force for good across our nation, promoting education and service and working to empower young women.
The sorority Alpha Phi itself has remained silent, neither confirming the incident nor coming to the defense of Kazantsev. They did cancel their “Yoga on the Quad” event that was scheduled for tomorrow. They did not reply to an inquiry of whether the cancellation was related to the Kazantsev expulsion news, perhaps out of fear the media would swarm the event.
Kazantsev herself has now come out to publicly admit her expulsion from the sisterhood. But she claims she is really the victim here, clumsily attempting to tie the scandal into her anti-domestic violence platform. Using the occasion to launch her new Miss America blog kirakazantsev.com, Kazantsev wrote late last night in a post she titles “The Reality of Miss America“:
I was one of those girls who fell victim not only to the abuse of an intimate partner but the abuse of people who I thought were my friends. In response, I imposed that attitude unto others because I thought it was right.
So because she was “abused” by “people who I thought were my friends,” she went on to become an abuser. That sounds like a standard claim of abusers. But Kazantsev doesn’t seem so sure that it was ever abuse. She calls it “so-called hazing.”
When I entered the sorority recruitment process at Hofstra University in Spring 2010, I decided to join a sorority for the social life but I also thought that I was joining a legacy of success and philanthropy. My friends were joining, and for fear of being left out, I joined too. To be completely honest, I didn’t know what I was signing up for.
The worst of the so-called hazing was standing in a line reciting information, a few sleepless nights, and crafting. I was yelled at a few times. That year, the sorority got in trouble for those actions and was disciplined by both Hofstra and the national organization. However, after being brought up through that process, my class thought the only way to gain respect in the sorority was to go through it or be seen as weak.
She blames her expulsion not on hazing, but on a little email joke that some snitch forwarded to the national headquarters:
When I was a senior, as one of the older sisters in the sorority, I was asked by a new member educator at the time to send an email to alumni asking them to attend an event. In the email, I joked that we could make the evening scary for the pledges. That statement was a joke – we never intended to actually engage in the wrongful behavior that I have been accused of – and the alumni event I spoke of never came to fruition anyway. But this is when I learned a very important communications lesson that will stick with me for life.
The email was forwarded by someone to the national organization. Based on that information, the national office summoned me for a judiciary hearing. At the time, it was the end of the school year. Finals, graduation, and moving to New York City were at the forefront of my concerns. Based on the fact that I did not attend this hearing that was the official reason given for my termination.
I was never involved with any name-calling or use of profanity toward a girl during my time with the sorority. I was never involved in any physical hazing or any degradation of physical appearance of any kind. This has all been immensely taken out of context and manipulated purposefully because I am now in a public position.
The nameless source that is saying these things is doing exactly what it is that I was wrongfully accused of.
It’s odd that she claims she was banished only because she didn’t show up for the hearing. (Isn’t that a little arrogant to dismiss such a proceeding? If you were innocent, wouldn’t you want to plead your case? If the sisterhood that you proudly list on your resume as your number one leadership role is even vaguely important to you, wouldn’t you want to fight to stay in and, more importantly, want to clear your name?) So the only lesson she notes that she learned from the incident—and “that will stick with me for life”—is don’t put something in an email that a snitch could use against you. Note she yet again concludes that she is the victim here.
It’s hard to know whose story about the cause of the banishment is true: the Jezebel one or hers. Both contain elements that seem untrue. Kazantsev does herself no favors in the overly prepared canned phrases she uses, nor in her donning the victim mantle.
In an softball “exclusive” interview this morning with ABC (the broadcasters of the Miss America pageant), Kazantsev began her defense with “These allegations are not true. I’m incredibly hurt that someone has said these things. Under the broad definition of hazing, yes, I was involved with some of those activities while I was at Hofstra. I came in as an impressionable freshman. And I was hazed.”
See, she’s just a victim.
In a follow-up to ABC’s interview, the writer of the Jezebel scoop, Erin Gloria Ryan, notes that if Kazantsev was expelled solely due to an email joke she made, it “doesn’t explain why an email she sent would result in both her and her best friend/roommate/fellow Alpha Phi senior getting the heave-ho.”
It should also be noted that in “reporting” on this story, GMA did not reach out to me or anyone at Jezebel for comment or clarification; they just had Kazantsev on to deliver her talking points to a sympathetic anchor on the TV home of Miss America. If ABC had reached out, they would have known that since the story ran, we’ve learned more, and that things are still developing on our end. It would have been a tougher interview. But that’s clearly not what GMA wanted.
Seems like we should all stay tuned.