Photo courtesy of Camille Sims '15

Campaigning for a cause | In her beauty pageant platform, Sims fights to reduce food inequity.

September 18, 2016

STUDENT STORIES | Alumna Camille Sims Places Third in Miss America Pageant

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Camille Sims ’15 is not only the third runner up in 2016’s Miss America Pageant; she also acts as a food security advocate, volunteer and singer.

Sims said she began competing in pageants at the age of 13, when her mother suggested that she use the contests as an outlet to engage in philanthropy and become a better student and college applicant.

“I knew I wanted to go to New York, I knew I wanted to go to a competitive university, but I also knew that I needed to find a way to get scholarship money to follow my heart and come to New York,” Sims said.

During her time at Cornell, Sims took time off from pageants to focus on her academic goals. She studied human development and inequality studies and was a member of the Sabor Latino Dance Ensemble, Cornell Ballroom Dancesport and CU Jazz Voices. Sims also participated in a federal work study at a local community center.

“Being a part of several organizations really helped me to have an academic and play balance in my life,” she said. “Having an outlet to perform and dance really helps, and a lot of my fond memories are performances or rehearsals and being able to make music and dance the stress away.”

Sims returned to pageants her senior year to pay off her student debt and determined to begin graduate school. She was named Miss New York last May, beating out roughly 80,000 young women who also sought to compete in the Miss America pageant.

“[I was myself] 100 percent of the way, from what I wore, to my talent, to what I looked like in interview, what I said in my interview, what I said on stage,” she said. “I really felt comfortable in my own skin.”

She added that the most rewarding aspect of her participation was being able to bring her platform “to a broader stage,” and teach the general public about food justice and the inequities in our food system.

Sims, who began volunteering at homeless shelters when she was 12, said she decided her platform was going to be about food justice after working at Head Start — a program in the United States Health and Human Services that helps children from low-income families with their educational, nutritional and social needs. She said her experience there, when she worked closely with families to help them develop nutrition plans, inspired her to publicize their struggles.

“Having to drive 45 minutes out of the way just to deliver a care package of food, because the grocery store was too far and they didn’t have transportation, and the food pantries were closed on the days the parents were off [and could] even get food … is something that touches every person,” she said. “That’s the moment I realized this is something we need to talk about.”

Sims has also gained media attention for her responses to questions during pageants, particularly when speaking on political issues.

“I am baffled and disturbed by everything that has gone on through this presidential election,” she said. “There are so many issues that I am passionate about that haven’t come up.”

Sims believes strongly in the benefits of the pageant system, calling it an “incredible” opportunity that provides women with funding to go to school and pursue careers they otherwise may not have had access to.

“There are places in the world where women will never get that opportunity, where women have to apologize for being talented, for being articulate, for having an opinion about things,” she said.

As if her academic success, pageant wins and volunteer work were not accomplishments enough, Sims said she plans to release her new album, featuring of neo-soul, R&B and jazz music, this November. Her hope is that the album continues the dialogue she began with her 2015 EP.

“[The album] was named after my grandmother, because she passed away while I was making it,” she said. “Having her not be there to see it come to fruition was a snapshot of that project. This album is talking about the loss of her and also going into the real world. It’s about the challenges and triumphs that come with it.”

Looking to the year ahead, Sims said she plans to continue traveling around the state, promoting her food security platform and preparing for graduate school, where she plans to work towards a master’s in human rights and a Ph.D. in human development.

Sims reminisced on her time at Cornell, saying “one of the greatest rewards I got from being at Cornell was my classmates.”

“[My classmates] are some of the most interesting and creative and brilliant minds I have ever come in contact with,” she said. “I cherish the stories, experiences and advice that I got from my peers by … being together and encouraging each other to do something new, do something crazy, do something fun.”