UWO student wins Miss Oshkosh, talks mental health

‘I’m not really happy about the conversation around mental health’


Courtesy of Thom Hadel, Back Row Photography – UWO student Taylor Swanson is crowned Miss Oshkosh 2023 by Miss Oshkosh 2022 and UWO alumna Kianna Fiedler

Josh Lehner, Assistant News Editor

UWO student Taylor Swanson is crowned Miss Oshkosh 2023 by UWO alumna Kianna Fiedler, who won Miss Oshkosh 2022.

UW Oshkosh student Taylor Swanson, who was recently named Miss Oshkosh 2023, now aims at using her platform to advocate for mental health awareness at UWO and the surrounding community.

Swanson competed against five other women during the March 6 competition, winning a $3,500 scholarship as well as the highest overall interview award and the Spirit of Miss America Award, earning her an additional $300 of the nearly $11,000 in scholarships provided.

Swanson said she gained an interest in pageantry around 2018 when her sister became involved. Her desire to continue, she said, comes from the enjoyment of performing on stage and the scholarship money available in pageantry.

Swanson said that her overall experience in pageantry has been positive and transformative.

“Every pageant I’ve done, I’ve walked out with different insights about my identity and where I feel I fit in,” she said. “Contrary to popular belief, the pageant girls are very nice and supportive. Everyone wants to see you do well. There’s definitely a ‘women support women’ vibe.”

Swanson said that pageantry differs from other group-oriented events like theater because it’s focused on the individual, their hobbies, how they want to appear and their social impact initiative.

Every Miss Oshkosh candidate must pick a social impact initiative that they will advocate during their year of service, and Swanson chose “Mental Health Mindfulness,” as she has dealt with depression and anxiety and wants to help others who may be struggling.

“From what I’ve experienced, I’m not really happy about the conversation around mental health right now,” she said. “My pitch — which is part of the competition — mentioned how I hear a lot about how it’s ‘OK to not be OK’ in regards to mental health. That’s a really good start, but I think that we need to move that conversation further to see some significant results. I think promoting a change in the conversation about mental health is another good start.”

Swanson said that, as a community adviser, which helps maintain safety and security in the campus dorms, she’s been constantly reminded of the campus resources as part of her training. She specifically mentioned the UWO Counseling Center, which provides a variety of resources for students struggling with stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. 

“As a community adviser, we need to communicate those resources to the students,” she said. “But as Miss Oshkosh, I want to specifically use this public platform as a way to spread this message more to students. Basically, I want to talk to students the way I want to be talked to when I’m struggling with mental health.”

Michelle Hammett, co-director of the Miss Oshkosh Scholarship Program, said that Miss Oshkosh averages about 60-100 appearances during her year of service, which includes volunteering, speaking, parade appearances and partnerships with organizations.

“Miss Oshkosh is viewed by many as an unofficial ambassador of Oshkosh and its surrounding communities,” Hammett said. “All contestants gain valuable experience and develop life skills that will benefit them throughout their adulthood. The greater Oshkosh area has been very supportive of the program and views Miss Oshkosh as a positive community role model to all ages.”

Hammett said that as Swanson prepares for the Miss Wisconsin competition, she also hopes to advocate her social impact initiative in a few different ways. The state competition will be held June 21-24 in Oshkosh.

“[Swanson] plans to reach others through reducing stigma through positive conversation, education on resources that are accessible to the public and promoting a message of positive self-image,” she said. “We are excited to work with her and are confident she will represent Oshkosh very well.”