More than just a beauty contest

UW student Nickta Jowhari is one the 50 Canadian women that will be competing in this year’s Miss Universe Canada (MUC) pageant. Jowhari, a third year kinesiology student, has a long history with student leadership and humanitarian causes.

Until recently, 20-year-old Jowhari was a Feds student councillor for the AHS faculty and is now a student senator. Her list of involvement opportunities on and off campus is much longer than the average student’s. It was her various volunteer and leadership commitments that prompted her to apply for the MUC competition.

Jowhari said it was also the acceptance of a transgendered contestant in the 2012 pageant that drew her to MUC. The contestant in question, Jenna Talackova of Vancouver, was originally disqualified after reaching the top 65 based on pageant rules that contestants had to be “naturally born” women. After Talackova launched a lawsuit against pageant organizers, including Donald Trump, the decision was reversed and she competed, making it into the top 12.

“Compared to other pageants in Canada you can see a significant difference in terms of morality and the way they treat their contestants,” said Jowhari.

Since her first year, Jowhari has worked to maintain a constant leadership presence on UW’s campus.

“Ultimately, I’m a big student leader and I like to call myself an activist and a humanitarian. It’s just something that’s in my blood and I’ve been doing it relentlessly for over a decade now,” Jowhari said.

“With all of [my] leadership positions and all of the organizations that I’ve created, I felt like I hit a wall and I could only take them so far.” Jowhari said this is why she ultimately looked towards pageants as her next step.

Currently enrolled in 10 courses, Jowhari has also started two not-for-profit organizations in addition to volunteering for many established organizations.

“The problem with me is I put my heart into everything I do so I was getting very upset that I could not take everything to the next level, that it was not getting the national recognition.” This prompted her to look into the national pageant.

Jowhari said there were over 200,000 applicants. There was a rigorous interview process and dozens of applications. She said she originally intended to apply for the 2015 pageant, however, she received a call from Joan Hart, a Canadian pageant icon and Hall-of-Famer, urging her to go for the 2014 crown. Jowhari said that the 50 finalists were all selected at different times, some as early as October, and have been preparing ever since. Jowhari found out she was selected just four weeks ago, therefore giving her less time to prepare.

The two not-for-profit organizations that Jowhari has founded are Desire to Change (formerly Operation Change) and Researchers United. The former is an umbrella organization that funds others like Sick Kids Hospital and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Jowhari is currently looking to transfer Desire to Change over to the Feds system.

Researchers United is one of Jowhari’s newest undertakings. She said that the recent federal budget, which resulted in heavy cuts to student research grants, inspired her.

“It hurt me because there are so many students out there that are passionate about trying research as much as I am and won’t have that opportunity. I had to fight for my research position,” Jowhari said. She currently holds a position at the UW School of Optometry studying glaucoma.  Bringing awareness to the disease if one of the “platform points” of her MUC campaign.

“I don’t like the word minorities. One of my platform [points] is to implement equality among minority groups,” said Jowhari on what she will use her influence for if crowned Miss Universe Canada. That list also includes working with and advocating for students with neurological, physical, and mental health disorders and, “advocating for the flaws in our medical system.”

Jowhari’s list of volunteering on and off campus is a long one, too long to list here. She likes to think of herself as approachable and encourages students to come up and talk to her about her experiences and the work she is trying to accomplish through MUC.

“I’m not a model, I’m not an actress, I’m just a normal student,” Jowhari said.

When the pageant officially starts, Jowhari and the other 49 contestants will move into a house together and be cut off from their lives with no phones or Internet. The contestants will be filmed for a reality show that will precede the competition.

If crowned, Jowhari will travel across Canada and to Nicaragua advocating for MUC’s two designated charities this year, Operation Smile and S.O.S Children’s Villages, as well as advocating for her own platform. She would then go on to participate in the Miss Universe pageant.