ASU Barrett, the Honors College junior Emma Broyles, competing as Miss Alaska, won the title of Miss America this past December during the 100th anniversary of the competition. She made history as both the first candidate from Alaska and the first Korean American awarded the title. She will use her national platform to raise awareness for mental health resources and the Special Olympics.
The Miss America competition is an annual event in which young female representatives from each state compete by demonstrating leadership skills through interviews and talent performances. Its focus is to provide scholarship assistance for young women looking to further their education, as well as to amplify voices of female leaders.
Broyles began her journey to the national stage in her hometown of Anchorage, Alaska at 15 when she took home the title of Miss Anchorage's Outstanding Teen, and then the title of Miss Alaska's Outstanding Teen. After a four-year hiatus, during which Broyles began her undergraduate studies in biomedical sciences and voice performance, she returned to the stage to take home the title of Miss Alaska.
Although her accomplishments in past competitions were impactful, none compared to the Miss America competition.
"Overnight, my social media blew up, and I saw myself on People and NPR," Broyles said. "But that's something unique about the Miss America experience – you're given this year in the spotlight, this year of fame, and it's up to you to make the most that you possibly can out of it."
Over the course of the next year, the Miss America title-holder will embark on a national tour to advocate for her chosen social impact initiative: building community through the Special Olympics. The games hold a special importance to Broyles, who has witnessed the positive impact the they can have for athletes with intellectual disabilities like her brother.
"Growing up, my parents put us in all types of sports. But as we got older, it became harder for Brendan to keep up with kids his age – and that's when he got into Special Olympics," Broyles said. "Brendan just really flourished being in that community."
In addition to creating inclusive communities by helping implement Special Olympics school programs and attending nationwide events, Broyles also wants to change the narrative of Miss America through through transparency about the struggles she faces.
"I grew up watching Miss America and idolizing these women," she said. "You could never imagine that they were stressed or struggling ... I would love to help break the barrier between public figures and the rest of the world."
Broyles made headlines when she opened up during the interview round of the competition about having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dermatillomania, a skin-picking disorder, also known as excoriation.
"There was a second where I hesitated and wondered, 'Is this something I'm ready to share? Is this something that I want the world to know about me?' But ultimately I think that bringing awareness and advocating for it was the best thing that I could do," she said.
After the competition, Google searches for "dermatillomania" skyrocketed. Broyles receives a steady flow of messages from others who have ADHD and excoriation, thanking her for her advocacy or asking for advice.
Assistant Director of ASU Counseling Services and licensed psychologist Amy Wasserbauer, who specializes in obsessive-compulsive disorders, said its really valuable for idolized personas, such as Broyles, to be open about their experiences with mental health.
"Not only was Emma open about having ADHD and dermatillomania, but she owned it. She exuded her passion to be real by confessing in a sense, and by opening up," Wasserbauer said. "Nothing breaks shame in a culture more than speaking on it."
Broyles intends to pursue medical school after graduation to study dermatology and establish deeper connections with patients because of her experience with dermatillomania. She plans to use her $100,000 scholarship in addition to her six-figure salary from being Miss America to assist with medical school fees.
Broyles was not the only Sun Devil who competed in the Miss America competition; Amber Barto, Miss Arizona, graduated from Barrett, the Honors College in 2020 and received her master's degree in legal studies from ASU last year. She has since spent time with fellow competitors including Broyles.
"(Broyles) is a very awesome, very real individual, which is something that really appealed to me about her when I first met her. And I think that's exactly what translated on that national stage," Barto said. "We were all so happy that Emma won. She is such a fun-loving, exciting presence."
"The Miss America competition highlights the achievements, leadership, community involvement, and social impact of talented young women," Barrett, the Honors College Dean Mark Jacobs said in a statement. "Emma and Amber impressively embody these attributes. We couldn't have asked for two better representatives of our college in the competition."
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Sadie Buggle is the Editor of the State Press Opinion Desk. This is her third semester working for the State Press after two semesters reporting for the Community and Culture Desk.