Featured News - Current News - Archived News - News Categories

Payton Head touches on adversity and fighting for rights

by Kristina Livingston - Managing Editor
Mon, Apr 24th 2017 09:00 pm
Emma Misiaszek/PHOTO EDITOR

The College at Brockport invited `Mizzou` alumnus Payton Head, pictured above during his lecture, to campus to advocate change and the power of protesting. Head's conversation aligns with recent events that have occurred on campus.
Emma Misiaszek/PHOTO EDITOR The College at Brockport invited "Mizzou" alumnus Payton Head, pictured above during his lecture, to campus to advocate change and the power of protesting. Head's conversation aligns with recent events that have occurred on campus.

Chicago native and University of Missouri alumnus Payton Head has undertaken momentous responsibilities in his young life, most notably the role of student body president at MSU. In doing so, Head represented roughly 28,000 students, becoming the center of national attention and spurring radical action for racial change on his campus.

With "Lessons from Mizzou", Head brought wisdoms and a message of resilience to The College at Brockport on Wednesday, April 19, sharing his personal accounts of separate racially charged and homophobic incidents. A Facebook post about his discomfort regarding these incidents on a campus he called home went viral, paving the way for campus-wide, nationwide and international protests standing in solidarity with black students at Mizzou. Head signed the post as "Your N*****/F***** Missouri Students Association President."

"One thing I learned at Mizzou: learn how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable," Head said.

Here, Head refers to acting on allyship and fighting for one's own right to safety and acknowledgement of the oppressions which a campus climate and administration contribute to.

Instantly the target of blame for tarnishing Mizzou's name by past and present students, Head became increasingly worried for his safety as he continued to participate in publicized protests, as the student demand for the recognition of black students' concerns grew louder and remained unheard. He first became uncomfortable with the lack of discussion regarding the events then-occurring in Ferguson, a city but two hours away from the college.

Senior Ryan Daniel found that Head's message reiterated many he has encountered on Brockport's campus.

"Half of the things that came out of Payton Head's mouth are things that we already have in process and in progress on this campus," Daniel said. "This is the second presentation I've heard on this campus about students organizing to make change; and if that's not a telltale sign that we need change on campus, then I'm not sure what is."

Among Mizzou's most publicized and criticized efforts to generate a response from administration were a hunger strike by graduate student Jonathan Butler, a game strike by the college's football team, prompting movement from the administration to avoid the loss of approximately one million dollars, as well as a sit-in tent city, which students surrounded hand-in-hand to prevent members of the press from approaching.

According to Head, the efforts of the students to avoid press regarding the tent city protest stemmed from concerns over the lack of cultural context many reporters had when interacting with the events at Mizzou.

"If we're talking about an issue, something that's been going on for years and years and years, we should be able to take it seriously," Head said. "The goal was for people to do their jobs."

While the efforts of the student body to urge administration for a change did result in the resignations of both the president and chancellor at MSU, thus further potentially endangering Head's safety, a flood of hate mail, death threats and accusations found their way to his inbox. Quite often, Head found himself strained from the pressure, nearly transferring schools but deciding not to after an incident at a local diner.

Head was verbally assaulted, driving him to instant tears. It took a group of white students approaching him in the moment and thanking him for all he had done up until that point for Mizzou for him to not transfer.

Head now travels around the nation, relaying his story to spark motivation for change in the minds of students with the power to enact progress in their environments. 

brockport.editor@gmail.com