By James Shepherd
Uniting students’ differences and sparking change within an institution is University of Missouri (Mizzou) alumnus and diversity advocate Payton Head’s mission.
Head kickstarted Black History Month at Rider on Feb. 1. His presentation, entitled “Lessons from Mizzou; Grassroots Leadership: Knowledge is Power,” highlighted his experiences with systemic racism on his campus, as well as the protests that led to the resignation of the university’s system president.
He first spoke of Mizzou’s old diversity campaign “One Mizzou,” and how, no matter the identity of the student, they were united.
“I remember as a freshman, I came to our chancellor during our big diversity summit for the university and I said, ‘We say that we’re One Mizzou, but I see so many different Mizzous. I see athletic Mizzou, I see white Greek Mizzou, I see black Greek Mizzou, I see all these different types of students but they’re all in their different bubbles and no one seems to talk.’ There’s a fundamental difference between diversity and inclusion.”
Following this event, Head set out to join any university organization he could to make a change within the community.
“Anything I could be a part of, anything I could support, I was there,” he said.
His presentation soon turned to history.
“The history that we think is so far away from us, but it’s so close,” he said. “And it’s important to recognize that that’s the way things are then, now.”
He spoke on how the fight for civil rights never ended and how discriminations are still experienced because they were never truly overcome.
Head then turned to discussing the demonstrations that began across Mizzou’s campus after a Facebook post he wrote went viral. He spoke on how the university administration did not address the demonstration for six days until it pulled him from class so he could assist in the drafting of a statement. Following the drawing of swastikas in residence halls and shouts of derogatory terms at students, demonstrators camped out on campus.
Universities across the nation soon joined in with their own protests, from Yale to Rider itself.
The demonstrations never truly ended until Mizzou’s system president resigned from office.
“Nobody wanted people to be fired, nobody wanted people to resign in the beginning,” Head said. “We just wanted to make sure we left the university better than what it was when we started. And I think we did. They’re having conversations now that they never had before. Over $10 million has been put into the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the university.”
Head spoke of how an interim chief diversity officer was put in place to handle everything diversity related during the demonstrations at Mizzou. Payton worked in close contact with this officer, an officer who had little to no resources to work with and acted as the point person for every single issue at Mizzou.
“So it’s important to realize that we have to put our money where our mouth is,” Head said. “That’s where the resources are. That’s how we can create a lot of systemic changes and get a lot of people on board.”
Head ended his presentation with a quote from one of Rider’s community members, Diamond Carr: “I hope you’ll take a stand, because history’s the present. This is yours and the future is in your hands.”
By James Shepherd