Courting Success Erin Hughes '21 wants to use lessons learned in the classroom and on the basketball court to fight for systemic change in the world.
“Because I am so passionate about social justice and have dedicated my time at W&L to taking courses that dive into these topics, I’ve been able to thoroughly enjoy what I learn and connect it back to other spheres of my life.”
~ Erin Hughes ’21
Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina
Major: Cognitive and Behavioral Science
Minors: Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Poverty and Human Capabilities
Q: What factors contributed to your decision to attend W&L?
I wanted to attend a small university that would allow me to connect with my peers, professors and administration. W&L offered both rigorous academics and an opportunity to continue basketball at the collegiate level. When I visited W&L, the mountains and beautiful campus made Lexington feel like home. Also, my stepdad graduated in 1993 and he never stopped talking about how much he loved it, so I figured it must be a special place!
Q: Why did you choose your major and minors? What do you hope to do after graduation?
I really love getting to know people and understanding how they operate and their passions – ask any of my teammates! I fell in love with my cognitive and behavioral science (CBSC) classes because they taught me more about how individuals tend to think and behave, plus I find the brain incredibly fascinating. Right now, I am in Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination, which has been one of my favorite classes at W&L. After the incidents of police brutality and the BLM protests this past summer, I have enjoyed learning about the cognitive processes and behaviors contributing to the prejudice and discrimination occurring in our world. As far as the minors, I am very passionate about human rights and fighting for a world that is just and equitable. Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and poverty studies (POV) allowed me to better understand the oppressive structures faced by women and people living in poverty on a societal interpersonal level.
I am hoping one day I will know how to answer the second part of this question! My family and friends will tell you I have a new idea every week. What I do know is that I want to fight for systemic change. In my POV classes, we often talk about the famous parable of the river. In my previous internships and volunteer work, I have been working downstream trying to save as many people as I can from the river. Being downstream is so valuable but also extremely exhausting, and I find myself getting frustrated with the structures that originally cause people to fall into the river. No matter what I ultimately decide to do, I want to be upstream figuring out what is broken and how to fix it so that people stop falling in the river. Most likely, this will be through legal advocacy or policy making, but I am still not sure.
Q: How has your place on the basketball team enhanced your W&L experience?
My team has been my family throughout these past 3.5 years. My closest friends at W&L are my teammates and my coaches. I’ve had the privilege of being a captain for my junior and senior seasons, which has really allowed me to develop my leadership abilities and figure out how to effectively work in team settings. Each of my teammates has taught me so much, and forming connections with each of them is one of the main reasons I love the sport. Recently, our program has grown a tremendous amount due to a heightened focus on inclusion and our team culture. During quarantine and into the summer, we began having “uncomfortable conversations” to better understand the injustices in our world and create a safe space within our team to talk about our experiences and identities without judgement. Being a member of this team not only enhances but defines my years on this campus. W&L women’s basketball has shaped me into who I am today, and I am so grateful to be a part of this program.
Q: What other extracurricular opportunities have been important to you at W&L, and how have you juggled those obligations with academics?
Being involved in the Office of Inclusion and Engagement (OIE) has been a very important component of my W&L experience. During my junior year, I served as a Greek liaison and transitioned to an OIE Ambassador this year. OIE allows me to listen and learn from so many different perspectives on this campus and sheds light on all of the work yet to be done to truly create a welcoming place for all students, faculty and staff. This fall, I am really excited to host a panel that combines my passion for social justice with my love for athletics. My hope is to create a space for student athletes of color to openly share their stories and perspectives and to facilitate open dialogue among all members of the campus community.
Juggling academics, sports and extracurriculars can be tough at times, but I always do better when I am busy. Because I am so passionate about social justice and have dedicated my time at W&L to taking courses that dive into these topics, I’ve been able to thoroughly enjoy what I learn and connect it back to other spheres of my life. I have definitely learned the value of time management and an organized planner!
Q: Tell us about your summer experiences. Have they been valuable?
This past summer, I had the opportunity to work with Blue Ridge CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). CASA trains volunteers to advocate for children who have been abused or neglected and make recommendations to the judge in the best interest of the child. I began noticing that some of the parents were not bad parents, but rather parents in heartbreaking situations with only bad options in front of them due to poverty. The summer was extremely eye-opening and revealed the harsh realities of childhood poverty. Fortunately, I am continuing to work with CASA for my CBSC capstone. By working with CASA, I am applying my background knowledge on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) from prior psychology courses to the greater Lexington community.
Q: Has anyone served as a mentor to you at W&L?
So many amazing professors, coaches, administrators, Deans, older students and staff members have been amazing mentors for me. One of my favorite parts of W&L is the support and guidance I have received from different mentors all across campus. There is no way I could pick just one! But I will say my women’s basketball coaches, Christine Clancy and Sarah Assante, and Athletic Director Jan Hathorn serve as some of my biggest mentors and have always pushed me to be the best version of myself. I am very grateful to be surrounded by such hard-working and driven women who are dedicated to making change on our campus.
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More About Erin
Q: Favorite saying?
“May you live long enough to know why you were born.”
– Cherokee blessing
Q: Favorite shop or restaurant in Lexington?
Pronto gal through and through
Q: What do you get there?
Vanilla latte with almond milk
Q: What’s your favorite spot on campus?
The new gym!
Q: What book or film do you recommend to everyone?
Q: Favorite W&L event?
Parents and Family Weekend
Q: What’s something most people don’t know about you?
My younger brother, Derek Hughes, goes to W&L, too!