For Nia Sanchez, becoming the first Miss USA From Nevada has given her a unique platform for her message to women.
The Twitterverse assailed Nia Sanchez for a comment she made during the Miss USA pageant, but this black belt knows how to defend herself.
Last summer, Las Vegas resident Nia Sanchez was crowned Miss USA in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—the first Miss Nevada to win the national pageant—and in January she was the first runner-up to Miss Colombia, Paulina Vega, in the Miss Universe competition. But rather than her beauty, her poise, or her milestone achievement, Sanchez is perhaps best known for something she said.
During the interview segment of the Miss USA pageant, when asked about the disturbing statistics regarding sexual assault on the nation’s college campuses, this expert practitioner of tae kwon do answered that women should learn to protect themselves. “I believe that some colleges may potentially be afraid of having a bad reputation, and that would be a reason it could be swept under the rug,” she said. “But I think more awareness is very important so women can learn how to protect themselves. Myself, as a fourth-degree black belt, I learned from a young age that you need to be confident and be able to defend yourself.” The problem, according to the court of public opinion—or at least the Twitterverse— was that she put the onus on women to avoid being raped rather than on men not to rape in the first place.
Until her win, Sanchez had been living in Vegas, where she volunteered at a women’s shelter, taught tae kwon do classes, and did some modeling. But as soon as the winners are crowned, the Miss Universe Organization moves Miss USA and Miss Universe into an apartment in midtown Manhattan for a year.
Sanchez still teaches tae kwon do, and she stands by her assertion that colleges downplaying reports of sexual assault to preserve their reputations is part of the problem— although no one remembers that part. Would she answer the question differently given the chance to do it over? “No,” she says. “Of course men should know the difference between yes and no, and people shouldn’t take advantage of someone drunk. But you have 30 seconds to answer the question!”
Besides housing the winners, the pageant also pays them a salary for the year. “People don’t realize that it is a full-time job, sometimes more than full-time,” Sanchez says. “You have office hours, you sign fan mail, you answer e-mails, do red-carpet galas, raise money for charity. Hospital visits are my favorite. I love spending time with children.” As for what she’ll do after she relinquishes her crown, she says, “I have so many plans. I really enjoy entertainment hosting, and I’d love to get a job working the red carpet. But my dream job would be to host a travel show. I’m working on a lifestyle blog now.” But don’t expect a fluffy, Goop-like site. Along with the usual hair, makeup, and fashion tips, Sanchez will be dispensing her favorite self-defense moves.