New name, same aim: Mr. Westminster gets a modern makeover

First-year student Calen Smith wins first prize and is crowned Mr. Westminster at the Residence Hall Association's annual event. Smith raised over $450 for the event benefiting the Rape Recovery Center. Photos courtesy Westminster RHA and Elaine Sheehan

First-year student Calen Smith wins first prize and is crowned Mr. Westminster at the Residence Hall Association's annual event. Smith raised over $450 for the event benefiting the Rape Recovery Center. Photos courtesy Westminster RHA and Elaine Sheehan

This year’s Mr. Westminster event showcased significant changes, including the first-ever female contestant, a blend of humorous and serious talents and an announcement of a rebranding for next year’s contest.

The Residence Hall Association (RHA) used the event to introduce the new name, Mx. Westminster, in the spirit of gender inclusivity and equal opportunity. The annual competition, which started in 2009 as a way for men on campus to be advocates against rape culture, raises money for the Rape Recovery Center.

Nate McDonald, RHA president, said the decision to rebrand one of the biggest events on campus was not easy.

“There was more thought and time put into it than a lot of people realize,” MacDonald said.

After thorough discussion, members of RHA voted to proceed with the gender-neutral name change.

Though participants have never been turned away because of their genders, MacDonald said the name “Mr. Westminster” implied only men could participate. Indeed, senior Vanessa Vega, the first female finalist, said she did it because she wondered if it was even possible for women to participate.

“Part of me feels that the reason girls didn’t think they could do it is, obviously, the title didn’t invite them to,” Vega said.

McDonald, RHA president, said the organization wanted to keep the event up to date and innovative.

“Gender equality is something that’s talked about every day,” McDonald said, “We also think of it as an opportunity for more people to raise money for the Rape Recovery Center. It’s not that we just want males to raise money.”

Finalists for the 2016 Mr. Westminster pageant perform a group dance. "We were in it together," said Calen Smith, pageant winner, "And we knew that like even if we screwed up, everybody knows it’s a comedy pageant so it wouldn’t really matter." 

Finalists for the 2016 Mr. Westminster pageant perform a group dance. "We were in it together," said Calen Smith, pageant winner, "And we knew that like even if we screwed up, everybody knows it’s a comedy pageant so it wouldn’t really matter." 

This year’s event raised over $2,300 for charity, beating the average of other competitions by more than $100. More than 300 people attended the show, and some even had to sit in the aisles or stand in the back of the auditorium.

Calen Smith, first-year neuroscience major, won first prize; Ian Troost, sophomore and ASW.Clubs president won second; and Vega, a vocal performance major, won third place and was named Ms. Congeniality.

Another aspect of this year’s pageant was the talent portion. Smith, first-place winner, said he has a fear of public speaking but performed stand-up comedy in front of the large crowd. Vega, who has been studying classical voice since she was nine years old, sang an aria from the opera “Don Pasquale.”

Despite Mr. Westminster’s set up as a pageant, participants said the event was laid back.

“I got to know everybody at the pageant really well, so I had like 11 people that I was good friends with there, and they were all freaking out about the same things as me,” Smith said. “So, we were in it together.”

With all the changes, RHA President McDonald said he has seen more positive than negative reactions to this year’s contest, but there has still been minor controversy. A recent post on the Westminster Confessions Facebook page criticized the inclusion of female and non-binary contestants, which created a lot of discussion.

"#3878: As a female I am quite upset about Mr. Westminster,” the anonymous post said. “It was a great fun-filled time. Typically with some good looking men. Now we have women in it. It completely ruins the fun. Feminists suck."

Vega, the female contestant, said she didn’t face any criticism or negative reactions in person, but she heard about the post from a friend.

“It was just so disappointing to me, really,” Vega said. “Do I consider myself a feminist? Yes. But did I consider what I was doing an act of feminism? No, that was not what was going through my mind.”

She said her fellow competitors were supportive and excited for her to join.

“I’m a huge advocate of being entirely inclusive on it,” said Smith, first-place winner. “I don’t see any reason why it should just be guys.”

RHA President McDonald responded to the anonymous Westminster Confessions Facebook post, saying he was happy to discuss and answer any questions about RHA’s decision but said he never heard a response from the author of the post.

“Mx. Westminster is for everyone, not just Mr. Westminster,” McDonald said. “It’s about saying, ‘Let’s have a good time, let’s put on a show for people and let’s raise money for a good cause.’”