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Miss America's CEO, who led the decision to remove the swimsuit section from the competition, returned to her home state to speak Monday.

Regina Hopper, an Arkansas native, spoke at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service about the Miss America Organization's rebranding efforts to focus on empowering young women as a part of the Clinton School Speaker Series.

The movement into Miss America 2.0, what Hopper and others in leadership have dubbed their systematic changes throughout the competition, is a move to make Miss America relevant in the current day.

"It's all about being beautiful," Hopper said. "But it's beautiful because you're smart and you're talented and you're giving and you're kind and you want to make a difference and you see the world as not something that you take from but something that you give to."

Hopper, a former Miss Arkansas, said they decided the organization needed a drastic change in January 2018, after the number of women vying for the title had fallen to about 4,000, where there had previously been more than 80,000 competitors in the early 1980s.

Since then, the organization has eliminated the swimsuit competition, allowed the Miss America judges to make their own questions to get to know the women better and sought to promote a message of diversity and inclusivity, Hopper said.

"I really felt like what she said was a breath of fresh air," said Charlene Julian, who attended the event.

Hopper came into the position when the organization cleaned house of its leadership after a series of emails circulated of the all-male Miss America executives commenting on the competitors' bodies and sexual histories. When she began her job, Miss America did not have any corporate sponsors, Hopper said.

After the 2019 Miss America contest, 4 million people had viewed the group's Snapchat story, and the organization had 8 million impressions on Instagram in one day. The nonprofit now has five corporate sponsors, Hopper said.

Miss Arkansas Maggie Benton voiced her support for Hopper. Benton is working on her master's degree at the Clinton School with a full scholarship from the Miss America Organization.

"I will always be a fan of what Miss America does for young women and how they have personally impacted my life," Benton said.

Skip Rutherford, the dean of the Clinton School, said the school brings about 100 speakers to campus through the speaking series each year. The school will have six programs next week. The programs are always free and open to the public.

Rutherford chose to invite Hopper to speak because of her relevance as an Arkansan and through the controversy surrounding the decision to eliminate the swimsuit competition.

"Well No. 1, I admired her candor and her dealing with controversial issues in a civil, educated and instructive manner," Rutherford said.

Rutherford saw it as an opportunity to allow Arkansans to learn from one of their own.

"It was an opportunity to bring someone back home who has distinguished herself in so many ways," Rutherford said.

Hopper, a first-generation college student, graduated with bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Arkansas. She said she competed in Miss America as a fluke.

"I came kicking and screaming into the Miss America organization," Hopper said.

Hopper was a member of Zeta Tau Alpha, and members of her sorority gave her an ultimatum that she would either serve as their candidate for the Miss University of Arkansas competition, or they would have to kick her out because of her lack of involvement.

"I entered and won by a fluke, and the fluke was that I didn't know the system, and I showed up being who I was," Hopper said.

Hopper said that today she wants young women to come to the competition and be who they are.

Metro on 11/06/2018

Print Headline: Beauty's point, Miss America CEO says in Little Rock; Arkansas native led push to end swimsuit competition

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