Ryan Allen never thought he'd actually win, but the 22-year-old senior communication major decided he'd run for homecoming queen anyway. Following through on a joke he and his friends had batted around since they were freshmen, Allen entered the Ms. Mason competition as "Reann Ballslee" - a drag queen persona he uses when performing at local nightclubs.
He earned more votes than two other women who competed for the crown.
Allen, who is openly gay, said he received an overwhelming show of support from the crowd at Patriot Center on Feb. 14, when he was crowned during the men's basketball team's 64-53 victory over Northeastern. Allen, who came to Mason from Goochland - a small Virginia county with a population of about 20,000 located between Richmond and Charlottesville - said that "Mason's diversity creates an amazing learning environment." Since being crowned homecoming queen, Allen has been the subject of a media swirl, but he said that life on campus hasn't changed.
Why did you decide to enter the homecoming queen contest?
"My friends and I had joked about me running since we were freshmen. As I'm graduating, we figured this was the last chance."
When you entered the contest, did you think you had a chance at winning?
"I never thought I would win. I was sure someone would find a loophole in the rules. But, with no protests after the pageant for my name being on the ballot, I was luckily crowned."
During the event, how did the Mason student body react to you?
"The student body for the most part has been very supportive. There are, of course, those who feel this is a disgrace to the university and they're entitled to their opinion. For me, though, this shows that Mason is a university that celebrates its diversity."
Were you shocked by the media attention that followed your winning the crown?
"I'm still shocked by all the media attention. I think, for the university, it was no big deal. We have drag events throughout the year. I think the media is blowing this into something bigger than it really is and, personally, I think that if you don't go to Mason, it doesn't affect you, so why does it matter?"
How have you been received by the Mason student body since the media attention that followed?
"I've had more people recognize me since my interviews and I had over 100 Facebook friend requests."
Do you think Mason's diversity allows for a more accepting learning environment?
"I think that Mason's diversity creates an amazing learning environment. I think that, by being at Mason, we hear other views and stories that can help us learn more about who we are as people and more about being global citizens."
What is your advice to any student considering Mason?
"I think that everyone should consider Mason as a great school to look at. There are lots of rumors and misconceptions about the students, the parking, the commuting, but every university has these issues. The one thing [other schools] don't have is the diversity. As one of the most diverse universities in the country, everyone's sure to find some like-minded friends."
What are your future plans? Career interests and other interests?
"After graduation, I hope to get a job in special events or advertising/promotions. I'm not limiting myself in anyway."
Photo by Teddy Meyer/Broadside
March 10, 2009