Greyson Sterba is leaving a legacy at NAU that will last far beyond the moment he walks across the commencement stage in May.
Sterba, a communications studies student from San Diego, took education he gained in the classroom with his disability studies minor and his own experiences with ableism as a person with disabilities to help create the Disability Zone, a training aimed at increasing inclusivity at NAU. It was a project that enabled him to bring his complete self to the work.
“Sharing my story as a disabled, transgender man has allowed me to further promote diversity and inclusion on campus,” he said. “I advocate for inclusion not just by sharing my own story but in my passion for helping others.”
While at NAU, Sterba worked in the Office of Inclusion (IMQ), participated in club gymnastics and joined various committees, including the Rainbow Coalition and Diversity Committee. In addition to his work on the training, he also focused his advocacy work through the Not-Inspiration Porn Disability Film Festival, which highlighted stories about people with disabilities that did not objectify the subjects. It was an incredible opportunity to share his experiences with a primarily non-disabled audience, he said.
His story is in fact the most challenging part of his time at NAU. After a lifetime as an athlete, Sterba was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) in the fall of his senior year. He had to physically slow down but also make sure to prioritize rest, sometimes over his studies, which required him to reassess his value outside of grades and success in the classroom. It also required him to see himself as something other than an athlete.
“Due to this putting a fairly abrupt halt to my first love, which was sports and being an athlete, I felt as if I was completely stripped of my identity and sense of pride within myself,” he said. “Really, the most challenging thing I have experienced during my time here at NAU is not only learning how to accept my life with my chronic illnesses but relearning who I am and appreciating all of my intersecting identities that make me, me.”
He committed himself to those intersecting identities. John Schaffer, an academic program coordinator in the Institute of Human Development who teaches several classes in disability studies, said his first real interaction was after a class when Sterba approached him about an unintentional inappropriate statement Schaffer had made about trans people.
“I could tell he was a little nervous and unsure how I would react,” Schaffer said. “After I listened to his concerns, we discussed the issue, and I thanked him for bringing it to my attention. Throughout the rest of the semester, Greyson was an integral part of class discussions. He was very willing to share his story and perspective with the class which was so valuable for the rest of us.”
In fact, Schaffer organized the film festival and asked Sterba to introduce one of the short films showcased at the event and to be at a panel after the film, when audience members asked panelists about their experiences living with disabilities. It turned out to be a life-altering relationship for them both that isn’t over; they’ve talked about making a film about Sterba’s story, which, Schaffer said, is a message people need to hear.
“Even though Greyson’s body isn’t always cooperative, he always has the right attitude about it and is always advocating for a better world for himself and others,” Schaffer said. “I have no doubt that Greyson’s passion and experience are going to make him a strong activist for LGBTQI+ and disability communities throughout his life.”
His NAU career also has been filled with advocacy for and involvement with the LGBTQ community and the connections he’s made in the process, especially with his work in IMQ. It was there that Sterba met Lee Griffin, his supervisor at IMQ and remains a mentor. Griffin’s support helped Sterba begin his own advocacy and served as a role model for being an inclusion specialist, which is his career plan post-graduation. Griffin said they instantly connected with Sterba’s passion for uplifting and amplifying marginalized voices and creating safety, community and opportunity for those groups.
One concrete change beyond the training and marketing materials was implementing sensory rooms to give students a break during louder, larger IMQ events like Rain BOO, an annual Halloween event.
“I have had the honor of walking alongside Greyson as he has grown into an exceptional student, leader and all-around human being,” Griffin said. “No matter where he is—in the classroom, at work, serving on panels, at the gym or on social media—Greyson is always using his voice and presence to make the world a better and safer place.”
Sterba is committed to continuing this work after graduation, but making it a career will have to wait just a bit—he and his twin brother are heading out for a year of travel after graduation. After that, he’ll be back to his advocacy and inclusion work with the goal of creating a better future for youth in marginalized communities.