“Do you want some Baklava? I have some in my purse!" Kayla asks me this as we sit down together. This captures only just a portion of her dynamic personality. "It's really good!" And in the middle of a restaurant, she pulls out a small bag with the promised Baklava. Kayla is currently finishing up her thesis project, while being a bad ass woman who uses her voice for good.
I had the pleasure of meeting Kayla through working together. She carries herself with humor and a magnetizing charm that is impossible to ignore.
Not only does Kayla utilize her voice to speak up for minorities, but she is a living illustration of what it means to grow and “become.”
As I got to know her more, I got to know the fiery determination that fuels her passion for humanity. For Kayla, this passion manifests itself through evolutionary psychology, which she came to love in undergrad psychology program at University of Michigan-Flint. During 2012 to 2013, she served as the president of the psychology honors program, Psi Chi.
"In one of my classes, I had to read a book by David M. Buss. I read it cover to cover and took notes, highlighted, I had sticky notes all over it. It was so intriguing. Evolutionary psychology answers the why to so many psychology questions." After her undergrad, Kayla decided to declare a masters in evolutionary psychology at Oakland University.
Evolutionary psychology is rooted in identifying how humans and species evolve on a micro and macro level. It serves as a tool to find answers as to why and how we are the way we are.
"As evolutionary psychologists, we look at how we were previously, what kind of traits or behaviors we have grown into, and why we do the certain things we do. For example, why are we so attracted to the McDonald's sign? What does it mean? Evolutionary psychology is able to explain that."
"Because of evolutionary psychology, I think I'm able to appreciate humanity more. Even looking at our past history, we are now more empathetic and less violent," Kayla told me.
"We want to create stories and life. We are utilizing our empathy as a tool to understand and accept one another. This is a unique trait humans possess and other species lack the ability to empathize."
Even from a personal perspective, Kayla studies the differences in humanity. Kayla talks about how as a black female she had to work twice as hard as everyone else to prove herself. "There was only three black people in my program and one dropped out. I felt like I needed to prove myself. There was a lack of us in this program and there is still a lack of us in science overall."
While the field itself is more inclusive with women psychologists, Kayla talks about how there is a severe lack of studies involving them. "Evolutionary psychologists tend to focus on men and explaining their behavior. For example, there a lots of studies on men and their reaction to rejection. However, there isn't a lot of studies talking about women and the fear of rejecting men because we are afraid of what could happen to us."
There are major gaps in studies of minorities and Kayla wants to aid in changing that. "My thesis project is dealing with the LGBTQ+ community. I’m researching evolutionary perspectives on the LGBTQ+ community but mainly focusing on gay men and lesbians. I am writing about the biology behind homosexuality and the areas that we need to expand on.”
While Kayla is a general badass in her field, she is also an image of strength and liveliness aside from that. She is intentional with each interaction and is kind to all she comes in contact with, recognizing the value they hold. She encompasses resilience and has survived her own slew of trauma and rough seasons.
"During my masters program I ended up severely depressed and anxious. I was overworking myself and it was a vicious cycle. I was working full time an hour away from where I was living. My days would start super early and I wouldn't get home until late. I would have to do homework, write papers, read hundreds of pages and only get a couple of hours of sleep. It was extremely unhealthy and honestly, I was crying a lot. I didn't know how to handle everything. It was way too much."
Kayla's personal "evolution," is worth sharing too. While it's still a balancing act, she is navigating this turbulent, ever changing mechanism called life with more confidence and resilience. It's messy, imperfect, but she has a resilience about her that she earned through years of darkness.
Kayla is an embodiment of strength and uses her voice for empowerment and justice and as a person who has gotten to watch it in action, it inspires me to do the same. And to whoever is reading this, I hope her story inspires you to spring into action, as well.
Written and Photographed by: Sveta Petty