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Shelby woman is first white to be Miss KSU

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By Brent Schanding

Life was returning to normal Tuesday for Shelby County graduate Elisabeth Martin, after being crowned Miss Kentucky State University last week in Frankfort. She juggled a final exam with an important luncheon, all while fielding phone calls from the media. 

She'll likely gather more media attention when she competes for the title of Miss Historically Black College or University later this year. She will appear with other like pageant winners in Ebony and Jet -- national publications that typically feature black celebrities and politicians.

You see, Martin, 21, is the first white Miss KSU in the historically black university's 80-year pageant history.

KSU professors, students -- even her own parents -- didn't expect her to win, but Martin had faith that the 60-percent black student body would pick the best candidate.  

"Some people who were skeptical knew that I would be the first white female to represent KSU," Martin said. "They wondered would I be able to relate to a historically black college. Or would I be able to relate to the majority of the students on campus who are African American?"

Her unequivocal answer: Yes.

"I see what it's like to be a minority -- and not in the majority," said Martin, who has attended KSU the past four years. "It's not all butterflies and wonderful things out there. You see the pain and the hurt everyone experiences. We're all human beings."

Martin bridged racial and other gaps on campus by engaging more than 75 volunteers from all backgrounds to help hang campaign posters in five languages. As part of the contest, candidates attended a question-and-answer session, a parade and competed in a pageant.

The winner was decided by popular vote.

Turnout for the election was the largest in a decade, according to an event spokesperson. About 646 students turned out this year at the 2,600-student university. Polls were open for 11 hours, and students had to show identification to cast a vote.

Martin, an English education major, received more than 314 votes and beat her nearest competitor by more than 100 votes. Vote totals for the three other candidates combined were just 326.

Despite her landslide victory, not everyone respected Martin's victory. Some gossiped and wrote disparaging remarks on the social networking site Facebook.com. 

"But I've had so many people to defend me," she said. "I don't even have to rebut those claims."

Martin said winning the title says volumes about overcoming obstacles and uniting communities.

"It means KSU has come together and embraced the diversity there. Your skin tone doesn't matter," she said, even though it will be apparent when she poses with other pageant winners from historically black colleges in upcoming editions of Ebony and Jet.

Though she says she knows she will stand out, Martin hopes to do it in a bold way.

"Yes, I'm white." she said. "But I want to be an example of embracing the diversity of all ethnic groups. It's going to be a beautiful mosaic."