Smith-Lezama steps into MSA vice presidency
Head and Smith-Lezama met their freshman year in MSA Senate. They always joked about running together for MSA president and vice president.
Feb. 03, 2015
Junior Brenda Smith-Lezama always joked about running for Missouri Students Association office with Payton Head, but never imagined it would come to fruition.
Head and Smith-Lezama, now both juniors, first met during their freshman year as MSA senators in the Social Justice Committee, previously under the name “Multicultural Issues Committee.” They would go back and forth over who would be president and who would be vice president.
“It’s something that I’ve always had on the backburner, but it’s not a goal I was actively working on per se,” Smith-Lezama said. “I always knew if I were to run, I would run with Payton.”
At the beginning of last semester, Head asked Smith-Lezama, who is originally from Brunswick, Georgia, to run with him. Smith-Lezama said she was unsure at first. She had to make sure she was willing to put her other commitments to the side in order to dedicate her time to this position.
After about a week of deliberation, she decided to run.
“I told Payton I think this is what is best for me, my career and for the school, so it’s something I decided to embark on,” Smith-Lezama said.
Head and Smith-Lezama’s campaign, Ignite Mizzou, handily won the November election, which broke the record for the number of total votes ever cast in MU’s history by nearly 2,000 votes. Their campaign received 54 percent of the votes.
When asked how Ignite Mizzou was able to gain so much support from the student body, Smith-Lezama said the campaign gave people something to believe in.
“We had people from all walks of life from every corner of Mizzou,” Smith-Lezama said. “Whether it be the students who are extremely involved or the students that just come to campus and leave, we were able to get everyone on board. That was really unique, and the passion Payton and I showed for the university and for the campaign really led people to see there is another side of Mizzou that we should explore.”
Kandice Head, Payton’s sister, said she met Brenda when she helped work on Head and Smith-Lezama’s campaign. Kandice said that she and Brenda have become very close as a result.
“She inspires me,” Kandice said. “She’s a big idea person who will come out of nowhere and actually go after things. She’s brilliant, bold, classy and everything that Mizzou needs.”
Now in office, Smith-Lezama said she hopes that during her and Head’s leadership, she can make sure the students receive the complete “Mizzou experience.”
“When I stepped foot on campus, it was tough for me because I didn’t know a single person,” Smith-Lezama said. “I found great ways through MSA to help people feel at home.”
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cathy Scroggs said she looks forward to working with Head and Smith-Lezama to help achieve that goal by including everyone in their conversations.
“We’re all going to make sure that all voices are heard and that we do things to include as many people as possible in all the dialogue that we have,” Scroggs said. “I’m looking forward to their enthusiasm, passion and excitement about making Mizzou better and involving more students.”
Smith-Lezama said she hopes that her and Payton’s legacy will be making a difference on campus by improving the resources already here.
“It’s not about reinventing the wheel,” Smith-Lezama said. “It’s about taking what we have and getting better, so I want to make sure that when we come out of (office), there’s a great appreciation from the student body for the things we left behind, because I want to do things that directly impact the students.”
When appointing their new executive cabinet, Head and Smith-Lezama decided to remove the chief diversity officer and legislative coordinator positions.
They believed that chief diversity officer was competing with the Social Justice Committee by playing similar roles.
“We want to move toward a point where we don’t need to have a chief diversity officer because every single person in our cabinet should have diversity and inclusion at the forefront of their agenda,” Smith-Lezama said. “We want to make sure we are ingraining in our cabinet and everyone that works with us that this is something that needs to be a priority that’s at the forefront of their minds.”
The legislative coordinator and Associated Students of the University of Missouri president were also playing similar roles, Smith-Lezama said.
“We spoke to Camille Hosman, the legislative coordinator from last year, and she was very adamant about the fact that with having Trey Sprick, the ASUM president, now a part of cabinet, it wasn’t necessary to have both positions because they were working on the same things,” Smith-Lezama said. “There’s no need to have a position in competition with another.”
Smith-Lezama’s biggest strength she said she wants to bring to this position is her MSA background, yet being removed for a while brings a fresh perspective, she said.
She said this is her first time she’s seen a campaign bring so many students on board and increase communication among the student body as a whole.
A challenge she foresees is handling the budget, a primary task of the vice president, but she said she is ready to tackle it.
“I’m someone who’s not afraid to ask questions or ask for help,” Smith-Lezama said. “I am a quick learner, so I think that is going to be a difficult process, but nothing I can’t handle.”
Smith-Lezama said she is looking forward to working with Head because they’ve made a great team since their freshman year.
“Coming to the office is like hanging out with my best friend, so I love that we have that relationship,” she said. “We were able to develop a really great working relationship as well as a personal relationship. We can laugh, joke and have a great time together, but at the same time we really motivate each other and make each other better.”