c/o wesleyan.edu

c/o wesleyan.edu

If you know anything about dance at the University, you’ve probably heard about Kevonte Payton ’22. In addition to being a director of X-Tacy and Fusion, Payton is also a QuestBridge scholar from New Orleans, Louisiana, works at the Office of Admission, and conducts research for the Economics Department. On top of all of that, he is an active member of the Middletown community, interning at the Middlesex County Historical Society and tutoring local kids for free. Despite his busy schedule, Payton took the time to sit down and talk with us about his experience at Wesleyan. 

The Argus: What’s your major?

Kevonte Payton: I’m a double major in Government and History, and my minor is in Data Analysis.

A: Why do you think you were nominated for WesCeleb?

KP: It has to be dance. I’m a part of two hip-hop dance groups, X-Tacy and Fusion. I lead both of them. That has to literally be the only reason. Other than that, I am a hermit crab on this campus.

A: Do you want to talk a little bit about your involvement in dance?

KP: I hadn’t really danced before [my first year], but saw the showcase out on Exley and I was like, “Shit, I can do that. I might as well try out.” I ended up trying out for fun and making it. So I’ve been involved since my freshman year. I’ve been leading Fusion for about two years, but this year I’m leading X-Tacy as well.

A: Aside from dance, what else are you involved in on campus? 

KP: A lot of nerd stuff. I’m just kidding. I’ve been doing research in the Economics department for two years now with [Associate Professor of Economics] Wendy Rayack. I am a [Middlesex County Historical Society] intern as well. I’ve been doing that for about two years. I’m also QuestBridge. That’s a big part of my identity when coming to Wesleyan. I’m a senior interviewer, so I’m very involved in the admissions process. I’ve been working in the office for about three years.

A: Do you think that being involved in so many activities gives you a different perspective on Wesleyan than other people that aren’t as involved?

KP: Most definitely. It’s because I’m involved in not only academics, but also engaging with the community, whether it’s Wesleyan, the hip-hop dance groups, or Middletown, with a lot of the projects I work on. I also tutor local low-income kids for free. Of course, that stopped with COVID, but that’s something I’ve done in the past. I worked at [the Office of Admission], which gives me the Admissions standpoint about how everybody got here. 

A: You mentioned that you were a part of QuestBridge. Do you want to talk a little bit about your experience with that? 

KP: QuestBridge is the reason why I’m at Wesleyan. If we’re being honest, I did not know a lot about what Wesleyan was. I didn’t even think I could get into a college like Wesleyan. I’m from New Orleans, Louisiana, so I am from a great red state, right? My high school was 99 percent Black—Black teachers, everybody was Black. I thought I was going to go to an HBCU [Historically Black College or University] or a state school. I didn’t think I could get into a school like this. I ended up being recommended for QuestBridge. I got in, and when I got to Wesleyan, it was a culture shock. I was not used to being in a space where I am the minority—the socioeconomic status was a big gap.

But QuestBridge was like my home on campus. That’s where I felt like I mostly belonged. I have friends from Kansas, friends from Texas, and friends from California. That’s the objective of QuestBridge: to try to get people from diverse backgrounds to places like Wesleyan. From day one, they have been my friends away from home. I love them so much. During freshman year, I was failing, and I wanted to transfer schools because I felt like Wesleyan was not the place for me. It was QuestBridge and dance that actually kept me at Wesleyan. I’m forever grateful for them. I actually live with those friends to this day, and they’ll probably be at my wedding when I get married. 

A: Do you think that you’ve found a community within Wesleyan that feels like home? What was that process like? 

KP: Yeah, I can say capital H-E-L-L yes. Even though Wesleyan may seem cliquey, it’s not, because if you’re an athlete and you practice with athletes all day, of course you’re going to be with them most of the time. Just like if you’re a dancer. I freaking dance for at least 12 hours a week. And so that’s a community. I also have my QuestBridge community, which is my main friend group even though I’m with dancers most of the time. I also have people that I work with in the front office, and we’re always getting lunch with each other and having staff meetings and dinners. When I work at the historical society, I’m friends with those people, and when I do research, I’m friends with those people. I do have small knit communities within a bigger community, and finding them was very easy. If you’re not really as involved at Wesleyan, I can see how it could be hard to find a community. I found communities within the things I’m involved in, and not just walking around and being like “let’s be friends.” I like that I’m in multiple communities without it seeming cliquey. All my friends still get along. I can invite my dancer friends to a QuestBridge event, or I can invite my QuestBridge friends to a dance event.

A: Is there anything you dislike about Wesleyan or that rubs you the wrong way?

KP: Oh God. There’s a lot of things wrong with Wesleyan.

A: What’s one thing that you would improve about Wesleyan? 

KP: Wesleyan is not as diverse as people think. Culturally, I’ll give it to Wesleyan. But other than that, Wesleyan is not that diverse. If we’re talking about race, no. If you’re talking about demographics geographically, no. Most people here are from New York, Massachusetts, and California. Cali is surprising. I wish Wesleyan had more—this might be biased—but Southern perspectives. There’s not a lot of people from the South. There’s a couple of people from Florida and from Georgia. There’s probably three or two people from Louisiana that go here. 

There’s really not much diversity in thought at Wesleyan. Of course, everyone here is liberal. But people here are so liberal to where they’re not open-minded, and that’s kind of crazy and scary. I wish Wesleyan was more open-minded—as open-minded as they think they are. Of course, I’m not talking about social conservatives. Hell no. But I’m just talking about perspectives that are a bit different. [For example], I struggled with pronouns when I first got here. Someone literally tried to go off on me about that. I had one person that actually explained what it was to me, and I really respected that. There are people here that can be so open-minded that they’re actually closed-minded. I’m like, bro, I’m sorry that we don’t [talk about] pronouns in the South, but it’s not that I wasn’t trying to learn.

A: What is your favorite thing about Wesleyan?

KP: It’s the community, hands down. That’s why I came here. I come from a family of 12, so I wanted that community aspect. I was going to be academically challenged no matter where I went through QuestBridge. It was a question of if I step on this campus, will I feel like I belong? Would I be able to explore my passions without being judged? That’s what Wesleyan really was. Even though I toured other elite institutions before, people looked depressed as hell. I don’t understand how so many people at Wesleyan wanted to go to a lot of the Ivies. I toured Columbia. I was like, “Hey, I’m not applying to Columbia.” They looked so depressed and sad. 

I liked the fact that at Wesleyan, no matter if you’re stressed and depressed in your room—because we do get stressed and depressed here—you can still go outside and see people smiling, see people waving, see people chilling, and see people having a good time.

A: Do you have any plans for after graduation?

KP: After being stuck in my ways thinking, “I’m going to law school right after I graduate Wesleyan,” COVID taught me that’s a fucking lie. I cannot do that. I cannot do school again. I need a mental break. I started actually applying for a job that I can take a gap year or two with to try to find myself. And since I have been heavily involved in Econ, I am going into banking in New York. I have a job with a bank, helping them diversify their portfolio and the communities that they invest in. That’s what I would be doing after Wes for about one or two years, and studying for the LSATs. I do plan on being a civil rights lawyer. You know, the money isn’t there, but at this point, I’m going to marry rich hopefully. 

A: What is one piece of advice that you would tell your freshman self?

KP: Take advantage of the open curriculum. I feel like I am involved activity-wise on campus, so I wouldn’t say do more shit. If you look at my eyes, I literally just woke up from a 10-minute nap. I wish I took more advantage of the open curriculum here, [especially] after being a senior interviewer and interviewing kids who talk about how constricting their high school was. Even at Wesleyan, talking to people who stayed in a STEM bubble, or a social science bubble, I wish I had taken more art classes, dance classes, classes just to learn skills or just because I solely like it. Once I graduate, as an adult, sadly, I won’t have time to do as many things as I do right now.

A: What do you feel like you want to be remembered for at Wesleyan?

KP: I really hope people remember me as a dancer. Honestly. I feel like dancing has really impacted campus in a lot of ways. We were one of the only groups that had a show last year during COVID to try to bring back the campus energy. [Also for being] really involved on campus. I say I’m a hermit crab because I’m so involved that only the people that I work with see me. Other than that, you probably won’t see me on campus. Ever since I brought my car on campus, I don’t even walk to classes. Please don’t judge me. I just want to be remembered as someone who left a positive mark. I’m always trying to be that positive spirit in any way that I can.

A: Are you going to pursue dancing in New York?

KP: I am still going to dance after college. New York has a good dance scene, so I will try to dance as much as I can. My job is paying me very, very, very good money, and I work from home three days a week. If my job lets me just do everything from Zoom, I probably won’t even move to New York. I’ll probably just move to LA and dance as much as I can there, then come back [to New York] when things open back up. But other than that, I do still plan on dancing. So if I end up in a Chris Brown video, I will quit my job.


Eugenia Shakhnovskaya can be reached at eshakhnovska@wesleyan.edu.

Jo Harkless can be reached at jharkless@wesleyan.edu

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