Kayla Myers smiles at the camera.
Kayla Myers. Photo by Monique Woo

Story by Sarah Sabatke

Kayla Myers has a knack for connecting with people. Ask anyone she interacts with — whether it be her past residents from Hatch Hall, the fellow members of her honor fraternity or the students she once led during Summer Welcome — and they speak of her with a smile.

However, like many first-time college students, those connections didn’t come easily. As a first-year student, she briefly considered transferring to a school closer to her home in Memphis, Tennessee. That changed after she joined Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity.

Myers says that being in the fraternity made her realize, “OK, this is where I’m supposed to be,” she says. “They’re essentially my second family.”

Once she felt comfortable on campus, Myers started joining other organizations and took a job with MU Residential Life.

Learning to listen

Myers, who is working toward bachelor’s degrees in strategic communication in the School of Journalism and digital storytelling in the College of Arts and Sciences, got the chance to be a peer adviser for the documentary journalism Freshman Interest Group (FIG) in fall 2015.

She didn’t know what to expect but she decided to say yes anyway. She ended up leading the FIG for two years.

“I really, really loved it,” Myers says. “I got to teach about documentary journalism and talk about film at the same time, and that was really cool.”

Working in a student staff role gave Myers an opportunity to connect with an even wider variety of students.

“I learned a lot about what it means to actually be there for people and be present in the hall — but also just present as a human, really listening to your residents, listening when they have questions,” she says.

Because of what occurred while she was on the job — the events of fall 2015 on the MU campus and the 2016 presidential election — she found herself using those communication skills often.

“They just didn’t know what was happening and … it was the first time that I really had to think about how important it is to just talk to people about what’s going on.”

Digital connections

Myers carries some of her experiences in Residential Life over to her work in digital storytelling. She seeks out projects that deal with representation and identity. She wants her work to start conversations and make connections with audiences.

One project she is particularly proud of focuses on something very close to her: her hair.

“I just took pictures of the process, [from] me taking out [my] African braids to how my hair is right now,” she says. “That was showing something that’s really important to me — my hair — and being able to talk to people about it.”

Myers has focused more on the film production side of the digital storytelling program and will be getting some first-hand experience as an art installations intern during the 2018 True/False Film Fest. She says her love for film and creative arts could potentially carry over into her post-graduation plans.

Moving on

As she approached her senior year this past fall, Myers decided she didn’t want to continue in a student staff role. Instead, she applied for — and landed — the job of student coordinator for the FIG program. In that position, she supervises the peer advisers and the FIGs they teach.

On top of her involvement in Phi Sigma Pi (where she is now chapter president) and Residential Life, Myers also worked as a Summer Welcome Leader during summer 2016 to welcome prospective students and their families to campus.

‘You are you’

During every Summer Welcome session, prospective students and their families are treated to a revue — a talent show of sorts. The Summer Welcome leaders perform sketch monologues dealing with issues important to them. Myers’ monologue was about body positivity, and she says it was one of her proudest moments.

“I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that every night if I hadn’t been surrounded by people who really supported me and were just, like, ‘You are you, Kayla. This is your experience and you should share that with people,’ ” she says.

Feeling free to be herself — and finding others who supported her — has helped to define Myers’ time at MU. “I think, especially for students of color or students who are of other marginalized identities, you feel like you have to do the work for people to accept you on campus or to make you feel like you belong in this space,” Myers says.

She’s learned, through the connections she’s made and the experiences she’s had, that she doesn’t have to carry that burden.

She wants other students to know that, even if they might not feel like they have connected yet, they belong on campus just as they are.

“You don’t have to do all of this emotional work for people,” she says. “You belong in whatever space that you’re in.”