Story and photos by Ryan Gavin
A love of learning and serving their community has led Sterling Waldman down many paths. Some people describe them as a change agent; others as a role model. All of them wonder exactly how Sterling does everything they do.
Waldman, currently pursuing degrees in both Law and a master’s in Social Work, graduated with a bachelor’s in Women’s and Gender Studies from Mizzou in May of 2018. And they earned four minors: Black Studies, Religious Studies, Sociology, and Leadership and Public Service. With the Multicultural Certificate. From the Honors College. Oh, and they graduated Summa Cum Laude. In just three years.
With such extensive academic accomplishments, it’s hard to envision there being much time for anything else in life. But Waldman, who came to Mizzou from Chesterfield, was as involved in organizations and extracurricular activities as they were in academics. Why do so much? Their philosophy is ‘get in where you fit in.’
“There were needs that weren’t being met,” Waldman says. “I’m the type of person who kind of fills gaps. Sometimes you see a population that isn’t being served, and people need things.”
The first organization Waldman founded was Aces and Aros, a group for asexual and aromantic students and allies to learn and find support. Next was Oasis, a trans student group, that formerly was a program in the LGBTQ Resource Center.
“We set it up to center the most marginalized voices in the trans community and voices we were told had been left out of the conversation to that point,” Waldman says.
They also founded the Gabriella Rosé Justice Support System. The fund is run by students, for students, with the purpose of helping transgender folks continue their education in the case of financial hardship.
Waldman also got involved with organizations that already existed at Mizzou.
Because they lived in the residence halls all three years and continue to do so while pursuing their advanced degrees, they were a member of RHA. One of Waldman’s pursuits there? Expanding the gender neutral offering, which Waldman lived in, to the rest of campus housing. As of fall 2018, students anywhere can enjoy it.
Waldman was also an active member of the Missouri Students Association (MSA) from the moment they stepped on campus. One of the biggest undertakings? The bathroom mapping project.
Waldman gathered a group of students and literally traveled to every single building on campus looking for gender-neutral or single-occupancy bathrooms to be made gender neutral. They passed legislation their first semester of their freshman year that all single occupancy bathrooms must be made gender neutral.
From there, they worked with Campus Facilities to update signage. And they manually did the data entry for the maps function of the GoMizzou app so people could be able to actually find them.
“There are all kinds of people on this campus, and you will find some who are the same brand of weird as you,” Waldman says. “Or not, and you’ll just like being in each others’ presence. Even if you don’t have a huge community here, there are lots of little ones who will love and support you.”
Though it’s not an official program, Waldman plans on finishing both their JD and MSW in four years. And they’re still staying involved on campus despite the taxing academic workload.
“There’s a lot of people from various backgrounds in law school, which is cool,” Waldman says. “I’ll invite people to attend events on things like relationship and sexual violence prevention with me, and they’re like ‘That sounds interesting! I’ve never been to anything like that before.’ So it’s good to engage in conversations with people who don’t have that background knowledge.”
“I’ve found a lot of people who are really interested in getting involved, which is cool, because as law students we don’t have very much time,” Waldman says. “But they’re interested!”
After graduating, Waldman’s keeping their plans relatively open since there are so many niches. They’re interested in education fields like civil rights, Title IX, ADA, IDEA work at a large school district or university setting. Another route Waldman is looking at is diversity hiring and training at large law firms. Regardless of the specific path they take, activism, advocacy and community involvement will be a part of their life forever.
“I really love learning, and I just keep questioning things, pushing myself and pushing the people around me to question what they’re learning,” Waldman says.