Head begins term as MSA president

Head and Smith-Lezama met their freshman year in MSA Senate. They always joked about running together for MSA president and vice president.
MSA President Payton Head speaks to an audience Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015, in the Great Reading Room at Ellis Library in Columbia, Mo. Head was formally sworn into office at the inauguration event.

Payton Head is a junior. He is a political science and international studies double major. He is from the south side of Chicago. He is a queer black man. He is a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image Award recipient. He was once homeless.

Payton Head is a lot of things. And as of last Saturday afternoon, just after 5 p.m., he became the next Missouri Students Association president.

Head's trademark issue is social justice, both during his previous time at MSA, where he served as Social Justice Committee chairman for one year, and during the MSA presidential campaign. It was his experience with social justice that led him to seek the office, he said.

"I always had it on my radar," Head said. "My freshman year, I thought it was a pretty cool thing to do. But I didn't want to run and not be a person who could actually implement and effect change. It wasn't until the Social Justice Committee was able to bring a broken Mizzou community together with some of the advocacy work we were doing that I realized I have the power, along with other people, to get people excited about what's going on in MSA."

Head said he joined MSA because he didn't feel a part of the MU community, especially after enduring what he called a "racial incident."

"To say that I feel all the way at home at Mizzou would be dishonest," Head said. "I think that as students, we sometimes struggle to find our place on campus. That's the reason I actually got involved in student leadership on campus."

Head said he believes experiencing homelessness between sixth and seventh grade opened his eyes and his mind to the world of social justice.

"That experience has really shaped me into who I am today," he said. "Since then, I have never been the type of person to look down on anyone's situation. I'm not saying that we should all pick ourselves up by the bootstraps though, because some of us don't have boots."

Head said one of his major goals as president is to make fewer students feel alienated and more students feel at home.

"There are many students out there who feel the same way (I did),” he said. “And it's not just because of your race or your class or your gender. It might be because Mizzou is the largest population you've ever lived in. Some students are coming from really small towns, some are coming from really big cities, some are coming from halfway around the world. One of my missions as … MSA president is to work harder to make sure that students feel at home on campus, as I'm learning to find my place, as well."

Head has been involved in numerous organizations on campus, including the Alumni Association Student Board, Queer People of Color, Tour Team and, most recently, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

Head's presidential campaign, which took the name "Ignite Mizzou," captured 54 percent of the vote in a year of record voter turnout.

"I think we stopped the focus on MSA and got students passionate about elections," Head said. "MSA is humongous. We've got all of these amazing auxiliaries and different things we do, but at the end of the day, a lot of students don't know about the services we provide. I think the biggest thing we did was actually connecting students with services."

Head said the driving force of his campaign was the students.

"It may sound really cliché, but I'm the kind of person who thinks about everybody's different experiences and how my experience has changed so much by interacting by so many different people," he said. "Every day, when I have a tour, I tell them, 'When you come to Mizzou, you're interacting with students from all of the counties in Missouri, all 50 states and over 100 different countries.' I have friends from all over the world here, so whenever I'm walking around campus, I just look at the students and think, 'Every single student is coming here with a different perspective and a different world view. How can we get them all together to be passionate about Mizzou?'"

One of the students he now serves is his own twin sister, junior Kandice Head, who remembers a time when winning elections didn't come so easily to Payton.

"Not a lot of people know this, but Payton (had) never won a school election," Kandice said. "In sixth grade, he ran for sergeant at arms and lost. In seventh and eighth grade, he ran for student council and lost. Senior year of high school, he ran for student body president and lost to his best friend. He even ran for (National Honors Society) president and lost to me by three votes."

Kandice said her brother's refusal to ever "embody or internalize failure" is one of the reasons he is where he is today.

"He makes success look easy," she said. "What I admire most about Payton is his ability to connect with anybody. He is an extremely generous individual. He's the type of person who will do anything for you."

Head’s executive chief of staff, junior Cara Hartwig, met Payton when they were both Summer Welcome leaders in 2013. She said they remained close, and when she found out he would be running for president, she couldn't think of a better person for the job.

"Payton is someone who you want to work with because of his great attitude," Hartwig said. "He's very passionate. His goals and ideas are tangible and important to this campus, and they got me really excited."

Overall, Head said he is ready for his term as president.

"I've been making sure to self-care, and I've been making long to-do lists," Head said. "I have an incredible support system. I think it's going to be a great year for MSA and a great year for Mizzou, a great year to refocus a lot of the energy that's spent elsewhere and put it back on academics and the students. There are a lot of great things in store."

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