April 2023, News & Features

Royal Court campaign — Popularity contest? Political campaign? Beauty contest? Not really

The campaign posters that have sprung up around campus for Miss SAU, Mister SAU, and other Royal Court offices may be confusing to visitors and even to some students. Some posters focus on candidates’ accomplishments and others put forth platforms for change. The titles for the offices might suggest that they are similar to beauty contests like Miss USA or Miss America.

Campaigns for the Royal Court are not really a popularity contest, political  campaign nor beauty contest. Rather, the campaign is is a unique affirmation of Black culture and a founding pillar of HBCU campuses. The selection and crowning of a Royal Court is an embodiment of the unique traditions and stylized celebrations found in student life on these campuses. These pageants are less focused on ‘beauty’ and more centered on tradition, culture, and empowerment.

The Royal Court consists of Mister and Miss Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior with Mister and Miss SAU leading the group. All positions apart from Mister and Miss SAU are selected solely by student vote. Contestants vying for the top roles must also compete in a pageant worth 70% of the competition.

Dale Williams, founder of Leadership for Queens, which focuses on mentorship and professional growth for HBCU queens, said, “You can’t compare us to Miss America and Miss USA… for we were established on our campuses showing you that academia was important.”

She explained that homecoming courts date as far back as the 1920s and as more students showed up to the campuses of Black colleges and universities, the tradition began to increase and gain importance.

The Royal Court is a long tradition at Saint Augustine’s University, one of the oldest of the 10 HBCUs currently operating in North Carolina. Candidates for the Royal Court office this year at Saint Augustine’s are:

Ana Nuñez, Miss Sophomore
Joshua Johnson, Mister Sophomore
Devin Nixon, Mister Junior
Tavis Stampley, Mister Junior
Jeyland Robinson, Mister Junior

Christina Black, Miss Senior
Sha-Monie Cole, Miss SAU
Ashley Weekes, Miss SAU
Miles Beasley, Mister SAU
Louis “Keenan” Lowndes, Mister SAU

One thing different about this year’s campaign is that one of the candidates would be the first Miss SAU from the Caribbean. The university claims that it is proud of its diverse student body and welcomes an international point of view, and a large number of international students study at SAU; the welcoming atmosphere of an HBCU is a popular selling point among international students.

Lindsay Baker, the school’s designated representative between international students, the school, and the government, reports that the vast majority of international students come from the Caribbean. The international student body also consists of students from Honduras, Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Zambia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and other parts of Africa.

Ashley Weekes, a Barbados native, is currently one of two prospects for the 2023-2024 academic year. If she wins, Weekes said the opportunity to be the first Caribbean crowned as Miss SAU is one of her motivating factors.

“So many Caribbeans come through here it’s no way that somebody didn’t want to do this. It would be a pleasure to not only be the first and make history but I’m passionate about implementing professional development workshops, cultural diversity programs, and mental health initiatives.”

She said that although she did not come to the university with the mentality to be actively involved or that she wanted to run for Miss SAU, her path led to this point. Her mission is “to motivate and inspire all stakeholders of Saint Augustine’s University to continue persisting until success happens.”

Weekes is the current junior class president and president of the SAU chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants Inc. She is also Miss Kappa Epsilon for the Kappa Epsilon Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.

Miss SAU represents the university at various events on and off campus which requires public speaking. This has been a focus for Weekes, who has a distinct accent, as she campaigns.

“People are fearful that they don’t understand what I say, and I understand that I’m in a setting where people don’t sound like me so I’ve been working on that. This means slowing down, formulating my words, and using different words. Most people understand me now.”

However, one of her plans is also to breach the communication gaps between international and American students.

“I want to implement programs where every Monday or so, students wear their country’s colors, and we learn different words so when we speak, we’re easily understood and why we talk the way we talk and the history of our countries.”

Saint Augustine’s University affirms that participation in the Mister and Miss SAU pageant is intended to empower young men and women to achieve their personal and professional goals while providing a forum in which to use their talents and intelligence to achieve a platform dedicated to making a difference in the lives of other men and women. This also means that contestants must be interested in the challenges faced by the university and its community.

Weekes said she is an “ambassador for all things progressive and transformation. We have been given voices to speak up and out, loud and proud, and I intend to use mine for positive, affirmative change.”

Voting will take place on April 11. The Mister and Miss SAU pageant will be on the same night at 7 p.m.


— Shappelle Marshall