Subject: new BC pres Undercover Beauty Queen with a cause
Above the Law
(This article was written before she became BC president, see link inside it).
Today, Anderson is the CUNY Law Dean — and soon-to-be President of Brooklyn College — but her deep cover role as a beauty queen against …
By JOE PATRICE
Back in 1988, a 21-year-old undergraduate, Michelle Anderson, bluffed her way into the Miss California pageant so she could use the crowning ceremony to protest the institution, unveiling a “Pageants Hurt All Women” scarf and shouting about the dangers of anorexia during the televised crowning ceremony before officials dragged her off stage. Today, Anderson is the CUNY Law Dean — and soon-to-be President of Brooklyn College — but her deep cover role as a beauty queen against the system is easily the most interesting tidbit about a legal academic you’ll learn this year.
Anderson’s run at the title was a complex ruse. To nab the title of Miss Santa Cruz, Anderson had to cover up a boyfriend, learn the magic of duct tape, and endure a grueling workout regime. As a profile in the L.A. Times back then notes:
For this 21-year-old college junior, the rules of the game included infiltrating the Miss California pageant over an 18-month period, disrupting its televised finale Monday night and spilling what she says are its inside secrets to the national media.
Sure, other contestants have criticized winners, and feminists have targeted the pageant itself for years. But never before has a protester become a contestant herself.
And to hear Michelle Anderson tell it as she sits on the steps of her ramshackle beachfront home, stripped of her title as Miss Santa Cruz County for unfurling a silk scarf that read “Pageants Hurt All Women” and shouting that the winner was anorexic, she did it with as much detachment and deliberation as Kim Philby did betraying his class and country.
The Philby reference is spot on, because the whole tale of deceit reads like an espionage thriller.
It’s also just a stunning commitment to the cause. She actually failed to become Miss Santa Cruz on her first try and instead of packing it in like most people would, she redoubled her efforts all to win a contest she never really wanted to win — or at least, never wanted to win in the way the other contestants did.
We asked Dean Anderson for her thoughts on this episode with the benefit of almost 30 years of hindsight:
Looking back, I probably would have said a few things differently than I did 30 years ago, but I was a young and passionate student at the time. In any case, I’m glad to have been part of a dialog about sexual exploitation. The kind of Take Back the Night rallies that inspired me in my college days are less common now, but a focus on gender equity remains salient.
In a world where pageant impresario Donald Trump is assuredly the GOP nominee and Toddlers and Tiaras was a real thing on the ironically named “Learning Channel,” the grip of beauty pageants on the American psyche is as strong as ever. Dean Anderson doesn’t focus on these issues any more, having moved on to other pressing gender concerns:
I don’t have a comment on pageants today because my focus has changed. My research focuses on the law of rape and sexual assault. Today, for example, Title IX obligates colleges and universities to respond promptly and equitably to campus sexual assault. The current challenges include conceptualizing and protecting equal access to education for all students, and ensuring due process for those subject to the campus disciplinary system. I’ve just completed a piece for the Yale Law Journal on this issue.
In any event, Dean Anderson’s long-ago charade remains a fascinating highlight of her career fighting for gender equity.