Female in the running for Mr. Wash. U. contest
This year’s Mr. Wash. U. could be female.
Idil Ali, a senior majoring in environmental studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, is one of the 23 semifinalists vying for the 16 finalist spots in voting that concludes this week.
This is the first time a female student has been nominated for the competition.
“Historically, it’s been 16 male candidates,” Anna Henkel, president of the student group that run Wash. U. said. “It’s just kind of campus culture. There’s no reason there shouldn’t be a female candidate.” There are no rules stating that candidates have to be male, and there has been no discussion about changing the name of the show, according to Henkel.
Ali’s decision to apply wasn’t affected by her major.
“It was more of a personal desire,” Ali said. Ali cited being inspired by her close friend Chase Sackett, who took second place in last year’s competition, as well as by other friends and a great cause.
While most students associate Mr. Wash. U. with the culminating show in March or April, Henkel and other members of the executive board spend all year working to select the candidates and raise money for charity.
One of the aspects of the spring show is the Rose Presentation, where traditionally a male contestant presents a rose to a female. But Henkel felt the ceremony has been conceived differently every year, and there should be no difficulty for Ali.
Sackett, Ali’s mentor, agrees. “I don’t think there’s anything a female candidate will have trouble with,” Sackett said. “Whatever Idil does, I’m going to support her.”
So far, being the first female candidate hasn’t posed any problems for Ali. “[The Mr. Wash. U. exec board members] haven’t treated me any differently than anyone else, which is exactly what I wanted,” Ali said.
The process begins with nominations by members of the student body or faculty. After filling out applications, the nominees are interviewed by members of the executive board, which then narrows the pool of applicants to 16 finalists. This week’s voting is one aspect in determining which 16 students will compete.
The group spends the entire school year fundraising for City Faces, a nonprofit organization based in the Clinton-Peabody Public Housing Projects. Members of Mr. Wash. U. hold T-shirt and candy sales, date auctions and letter-writing campaigns to raise money for the program. The 16 candidates also contribute their own individual fundraising efforts. Bob Hansman, a professor of architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, started City Faces in 1993.
“We didn’t have many lofty goals going into it,” Hansman admitted. “What happened is a lot of my Wash. U. students started coming to the projects to help out down there, and, gradually, relationships started to develop. Those relationships deepened really quickly.”
Based in what Hansman called “one of the worst places in St. Louis,” City Faces provides books, musical instruments, art supplies and sports equipment for local children. Additionally, Washington University students spend time mentoring and tutoring in Clinton-Peabody. “Seeing that passion and energy, you can’t help not wanting to be a part of it,” Ali said.
Last year, the Mr. Wash. U. competition raised $31,000 for City Faces, and this year’s goal is $35,000. According to Hansman, much of last year’s money was used to hold cooking and nutrition classes, purchase musical instruments and stock the program’s growing children’s library.
Hansman emphasized the importance of continuity in the group’s efforts. “They don’t jump around charities,” he said. “They establish relationships that last. That’s a big part of our philosophy.”
Within Mr. Wash. U., however, the first female applicant could inherently change the nature of the competition. According to Henkel, the event could potentially become entirely co-ed in the future. “[Ultimately], we have to go back to our mission: We’re helping City Faces,” Henkel said.
With additional reporting by Johann Qua Hiansen