Bravely sharing her story of overcoming a past traumatic experience, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville senior and Miss Southern Illinois 2019 Autumn Sanderson is inspiring strength and changing lives.
“I want to be a voice for the voiceless,” Sanderson said. “I encourage people to put themselves out there and share their story. Don’t be afraid.”
In 2014, as a freshman on a different college campus, Sanderson was the victim of a sexual assault. The traumatic experience turned her world upside down. She took a year off from school and toured universities to find a safe, comfortable fit.
She decided SIUE was the home she needed. She also decided to turn her pain into a platform for helping others, so she pursued pageantry. She was crowned Miss Southern Illinois 2019.
“I thought that if this is happening to me, it’s happening to so many other young women,” Sanderson recalled. “I decided to start my social impact initiative, “No More 1 in 4,” so I could use my title, Miss Southern Illinois, to be an advocate. It’s given me the opportunity to work with nonprofits in the area that work with children who are victims of sexual abuse. My platform has expanded from working with mostly college students to children. Sharing my story has made me a stronger person.”
Sanderson’s pageantry and advocacy experiences also inspired her future aspirations of becoming a broadcast journalist.
“I’m studying mass communications, with a concentration in journalism,” she explained. “Because of competing in the Miss America organization, I found my passion for public speaking and current events, and that is what ultimately led me to pursue journalism.”
“It’s hard to balance my personal life, pageant life and school, but SIUE has made my transition easy,” Sanderson added. “The Department of Mass Communications has been supportive of my Miss America journey.”
No matter where she lands post-graduation or post-pageantry, Sanderson’s amplified voice, increased confidence and steady strength will lead her to continued success as an inspiring female.
“I was scared the first time I shared my story in front of a panel of judges, but I’m incredibly thankful that I took that leap,” she said. “I can take these experiences with me in all stages of life now.”