Prior to the end of classes, Sociology student worker, Savannah Henderson, interviewed Truman Scholarship recipient, Ranen Miao, to discuss his reasons for choosing to major in Sociology, the process for applying to the Truman Scholarship, his goals after WashU, and more!
Savannah: Where are you from? What did your life look like prior to WashU? What inspired you to get involved in activism on campus and beyond?
Ranen: I’m from Edison, NJ. Prior to WashU, I went to high school in Millburn, where I was particularly active in political organizing, Key Club, and the debate team. At WashU, I got involved in activism because I wanted to pursue my interests in policy and Sociology outside of the classroom, leading me to join Student Union and do a variety of advocacy initiatives there! In general, my activism is motivated by my recognition that the identities I hold – as a queer, Asian child of immigrants – deny me an equal opportunity to access resources, build meaningful relationships, or be recognized as fully human. Through courses like The Social Construction of Race with Professor [Adia Harvey] Wingfield, I recognized the different dimensions of structural oppression, motivating me to engage with them through protest, policymaking, internships, and community service.
Savannah: Why did you choose to attend WashU?
Ranen: I loved WashU’s collaborative environment and small class sizes, which I felt would offer me the greatest opportunities to connect with my professors and engage deeply in the materials we were presented with.
Savannah: Why did you choose Sociology as one of your majors? What is appealing about Sociology? How has Sociology shaped your journey in activism and pursuing equity?
Ranen: I chose Sociology because I loved my class with Professor Wingfield and wanted to more critically analyze how society was structured, and how different dimensions of inequality denied people equal opportunity on the basis of identity. Sociology is appealing because it offers an important analytical framework to understand the world around you, to identify shortcomings in institutions and systems, and to make meaningful efforts to address those shortcomings!
Savannah: If you were Chancellor here at WashU, what would your first five orders of business or changes enacted be?
Ranen: I’d increase wages for essential workers, increase funding for OSS [Office for Student Success] and the CDI [Center for Diversity and Inclusion], focus on investing in an Ethnic Studies Department (building on the work and research of Sociology), redirect funding to support more mental health counselors, and increase avenues for student feedback!
Savannah: How did you learn about the Truman Scholarship? What made you want to apply? What was the application process like?
Ranen: I learned about the Truman Scholarship through three friends who won the scholarship in 2020: Julia [Udell], Zach [Eisner], and Max [Klapow]. All three were notable public service leaders in their fields and were people I greatly looked up to. Learning about their journeys and the scholarship encouraged me to apply because I saw the scholarship supporting students with passions like mine for public service! The application process was long: I started in November when I had to complete the written application and submit a letter of recommendation. In December, when I found out I was selected as a University finalist, I submitted two more recommendation letters and wrote a policy proposal about addressing housing insecurity in St. Louis. I was then nominated by the University in January when I filled out the remainder of my application and submitted it to the national foundation. I found out I was selected as a finalist in late February and had my interview with a 7-person panel on April 1st. It was a really long process!
Savannah: What advice would you give to someone planning to apply to the scholarship in the upcoming years?
Ranen: I would encourage someone planning to apply to think about why they care about public service and how they want to contribute to the common good. Knowing that and working towards those goals will make the application a lot more organic and authentic, which will be valuable in the process! Also, I would highly recommend reaching out to Dean [Grizelda] McClelland and working together to talk through the process and find the scholarship of best fit. Beyond the Truman, WashU also offers great opportunities like the Beinecke, Goldwater, Astronaut, Luce, and Udall for aspiring sophomores and juniors interested in science or humanities research, study abroad, or environmental activism!
Savannah: What does your daily schedule look like? How do you stay grounded despite all of the campus activities you are involved in? What do self-care and self-preservation look like for you?
Ranen: My daily schedule tends to be very hectic, especially in the last year when I served as president. I would probably have one or two meetings (on busy days, a few more), two to three classes (I’m taking 7 classes at the moment), and two or three extracurricular meetings. I balance this with a lot of time spent with friends, whether it’s studying in Bauer or getting coffee at Whispers! It helps me feel connected to other people and gives me space to vent and catch up with my friends. Self-care for me also means allocating time for eating meals, drawing boundaries when I need it, sleeping, walking to school, getting boba, and watching Netflix!
Savannah: What do you hope your impact will be after WashU? What is your dream job? What is your vision for yourself and for the world?
Ranen: I hope I will be able to engage in policy change on a larger scale than I could at WashU. My dream job would be policymaking, whether it be in the legislature or an appointed position in the Domestic Policy Council. These opportunities would allow me to improve people’s lives on a large scale with a focus on equity. My vision for myself is that I will be one member of a larger movement for change, a part of the community who can inspire, uplift, and support others. My vision for the world is one where all people are treated with the humanity, empathy, and dignity we are all entitled to – a world that I’m only able to envision because I have seen today’s world more clearly through my sociological studies!
Savannah: How do you define success?
Ranen: Success is about making people’s lives better. I am a true believer that we all ought to live our lives in service to a greater good. I hope at the end of my life, I will have changed many lives for the better. I am interested in policy because I view it as the most tangible and wide-reaching way to influence people’s lives, and I will feel successful when I am able to sway policies to provide support for people who are struggling in our country and the world.
Savannah: What do you feel is important that people should know about you? What is something that is not on your resume that you are proud of and gives insight into who you are and what you value?
Ranen: I think it’s important that people know that I fail often and struggle like everyone else. When I was student body president, I think many people forgot that I was just a student who was taking classes, binging Netflix, and procrastinating on my homework like everybody else. Something not on my resume but which I’m proud of is the type of friend I am. I value the people in my life more than anything else and will drop what I’m doing at the drop of a hat if a friend needs help. I think my broader care for humanity is reflected in my interpersonal interactions with people who I love and value.
Savannah: Who inspires and motivates you? How have they influenced the work you are currently doing and want to do in the future?
Ranen: I’m inspired and motivated by the strength of my peers and our community’s resilience amidst adversity. In the last few years, being in Student Union gave me the opportunity to learn about people’s struggles and advocate for issues that impacted students. I think my peers gave me both strength and motivation to advocate for issues of equity, even when they were unpopular or controversial because it offered an important support system and a reminder of why policy change is so important.
Ranen studies Political Science, Sociology, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Currently, he is serving his second term as student body president, where he works on promoting menstrual equity, investing in culturally-competent and affirming mental health care, expanding access to gender-neutral restrooms, and tackling food and housing insecurity. He concurrently serves as president for the WashU College Democrats and the Debate Team, and on the state level, serves as the LGBTQ+ Caucus Chairperson for the Missouri College Democrats, where he advocated for an end to HIV criminalization. Ranen is particularly interested in leveraging policy and litigation to expand legal protections for LGBTQ+ people and couples. Accordingly, he plans to pursue a JD specializing in civil rights. After his graduate studies, he intends to work with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBTQ and HIV Project on civil rights litigation. In his free time, Ranen enjoys singing with his a capella group, volunteering to support unhoused St. Louisians with Tent Mission STL, and spending time with friends.
Savannah Henderson is a rising fourth-year student majoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and minoring in Sociology and African and African American Studies. She serves as a student worker in the WashU Sociology Department. She is also a Mellon Mays Fellow and researches the intersections of racism, sexism, and fatphobia in the lives of Black women.