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In her final days wearing the crown and just weeks after accusing pageant leaders of bullying her into silence, reigning Miss America Cara Mund said she was speaking out to make sure the next winner "knows what she's getting into" and called for a change at the top of the organization.
In an exclusive interview Friday provided without permission from the Miss America organization, Mund said she was going "out on a limb to make sure that whoever the next woman is that takes my job, she knows what she’s getting into, she feels supported, and that we’re going to be able to make it the best year possible."
In August, Mund, 24, wrote a letter to a group of her predecessors blasting the organization leadership, and singling out its CEO, Regina Hopper, and chair, Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News host and Miss America.
Mund accused the women and other leaders of bullying her and restricting her public appearances to specific talking points about the relevance of the organization, rather than the charity issues she wanted to promote.
Mund, who last September became the first Miss North Dakota to win the title, pointed out that nearly two dozen Miss America state organizers had called for Carlson’s resignation before she ever aired her complaints.
“My letter never ignited any of this,” she said.
But she acknowledged: “I do think with the lack of confidence there does need to be a leadership change, and I think it come from more than one individual. I think it’s the culture in general.”
Mund said she wanted to speak out "because we’re going to make sure that for this next girl, she’s able to go out and talk about whatever it is she’s passionate about."
In her letter last month to her “Miss America Sisters,” Mund said the pageant's "rhetoric about empowering women, and openness and transparency" was far different in reality.
"Our chair and CEO have systematically silenced me, reduced me, marginalized me, and essentially erased me in my role as Miss America in subtle and not-so-subtle ways on a daily basis," she wrote.
"After a while, the patterns have clearly emerged, and the sheer accumulation of the disrespect, passive-aggressive behavior, belittlement, and outright exclusion has taken a serious toll."
The Miss America Organization responded in a brief statement expressing its disappointment with Mund airing her grievances publicly.
"Her letter contains mischaracterizations and many unfounded accusations. We are reaching out to her privately to address her concerns,” the organization said.
The controversy is the latest after fallout over the way pageant leaders handled the decision to drop the legendary swimsuit competition as well as other decisions in trying to rebrand the the 97-year-old contest.
Mund, a Brown University graduate who now plans to attend law school, said she sees winning the Miss America crown as a symbol of her hard work and dedication.
"Once I give it up, it’s going to serve as symbol of courage and persistence, and from this point on, this is a launching pad for whatever comes next," she said. "I’m ready to go out in the real world and really be a strong independent woman that makes a difference."
The next Miss America will be crowned Sunday night in Atlantic City.