By Leslie Benford, Miss Dogwood 2015, Arkansas Chapter

Leslie Benford 1As a local titleholder for the Miss Arkansas organization, my platform is Media Literacy Education. For those of you who don’t follow the world of pageantry, a platform is a cause or issue titleholders advocate for during their reigning year. I received a Communication and Journalism degree from the University of Arkansas in December of 2014, so I wanted to involve both of my areas of study in my platform. During my undergrad years, I came to realize how important Media Literacy Education really is. My platform encourages students to evaluate, analyze, create and communicate messages from all types of media. It’s a platform that promotes critical thinking skills, to become better members of society. It bothered me to know we are never going to get screens out of kids’ faces, but maybe, just maybe when can teach them to process what they are seeing and ask questions.

Media Literacy Now has been one of the biggest supporters of my platform thus far. We are in the beginning stages of putting together some legislation that I hope will one day become a law for the state of Arkansas. I have met with several Representatives and Senators to express my concern on the lack of programs related to media literacy, online safety, and digital citizenship. With the youth of America spending more time on social media, tablets, TV, etc., than outside or with their families, it’s important to me that I try to do all I can as Miss Dogwood to help spread awareness. If selected as Miss Arkansas in July or even Miss America in September, my goal is to continue to work with organizations like Media Literacy Now that encourage and support a healthy lifestyle with media.

The reason I am so passionate about this issue is because I feel it’s really gotten out of hand. Ten to 20 years ago America didn’t have to worry about cyber bullying, online Leslie Benfordpredators, sexting or not getting the job because of what’s on their social media record. My goal is to help start programs within my state and educate others on why it’s so important to have healthy, positive media habits. My platform has four main areas it targets: “Be a Media Detective” for elementary students, “I’ve Got the Power” for middle and junior high students, “Going a Step Beyond” for high school students, and Tips for Parents and Guardians.

As a woman in the field of journalism, I have seen the ways media bias has hindered our young women. I want to be of service to my state and its young women to help build self-confidence, reassure them that they can be in male-dominated fields related to STEM and the film industry, and challenge them to hold themselves accountable and to a higher standard on their social media. I hope you will support Media Literacy Now and all the work they are doing, not only for me and the state of Arkansas, for society as a whole.

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