The Creative Type Working in Italy, starring in theater productions and being involved in Generals' Unity are just a few of the experiences that have made W&L a great fit for Win Gustin '20.
“Every production is time-consuming and hectic, but they’ve challenged me in incredible ways I never expected, including memorizing pages of monologues, building trust with an ensemble cast, and working one-on-one with fantastic directors to make each moment come alive.”
~ Win Gustin ’20
Hometown: Mobile, Alabama
Minor: Creative Writing
Q: What factors led you to choose W&L?
I was drawn to its location. The mountains of the Shenandoah Valley absolutely stunned me when I first visited in 2015, and I’d love to work along the East Coast after law school. Beyond that, W&L really impressed me with their generous financial aid and small class sizes.
Q: Why did you choose your major and minor?
I love writing narratives. Narratives in both history and creative writing can be uplifting, uncomfortable, and can even make absolutely no sense sometimes – ultimately, they can and should challenge us. In history, I’m not so much interested in the “great leaders” throughout history or military tactics; I’m more interested in the underlying narratives of disenfranchisement, inequality and the taboo, as these topics often end up telling us a lot more about the realities of those times.
With creative writing, I like telling similar stories: stories that push against the bounds of experimentalism, stories that challenge our conceptions of what conventional human relationships look like. Both are incredibly fulfilling to me in their own ways!
Q: Tell us a little bit about your honors thesis on women’s suffrage in Britain. Why does that topic interest you?
I knew I wanted to focus on 19th-century Britain and, upon doing a little research, got really interested in radical thought. On this note, there’s been a lot of really strong scholarly research done about the radical militant suffragettes of the early 20th century, and so I’ve latched onto telling the narrative of the women’s suffrage movement starting from its infancy during the 1830s up until some limited enfranchisement was attained in 1918. This topic fascinates me because the debates within feature a lot of the rhetoric we see today, like family-centric morality and traditional ideas of patriarchy between a husband and wife. As with much of history, the debates around women’s suffrage can help contextualize the conversations of today.
Q: What did you gain from your experience in Florence, Italy, last summer, where you worked on Professor George Bent’s Florence As It Was project?
Beyond the already incredible experience of eating gelato, exploring spectacular 15th-century architecture, and wandering Florence’s leather market, I was lucky enough to work with Professor Bent and Alice Chambers ’20 in building accurate models of Florence’s historic sites by using cutting-edge laser-scanning and photogrammetric technology. Using software here in Lexington, we can take those models and strip away the new to better understand the old, letting anyone – anywhere – explore Florence as it was. Our work didn’t end after laser-scanning and photographing these spaces; in the afternoons, we researched Florentine history to provide accurate context to the models we were producing.
Q: How important have your theater experiences and your theater family been to you during your journey at W&L? Why?
Midway through my freshman year of high school, our auditorium was destroyed by a tornado. It was a real low point for my acting career. When I finally got to W&L, though, I dipped my toes into a production of “Dracula” and have loved every experience immensely.
I have played the roles of Male Attendant 2 in “Dracula,” O’Brien in “1984,” Trofimov in “The Cherry Orchard,” and Hermia in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Every production is time-consuming and hectic, but they’ve challenged me in incredible ways I never expected, including memorizing pages of monologues, building trust with an ensemble cast, and working one-on-one with fantastic directors to make each moment come alive. Above everything, though, I’ve fallen in love with the sense of community in each production. We get to come together, work our tails off for something we’re all unendingly passionate about, and come out with productions that we can seriously be proud of.
Q: What is Generals’ Unity, how have you been involved in it, and what do you think it brings to the W&L community?
Generals’ Unity is W&L’s LGBTQ+ organization and works to promote equal rights, justice and opportunity for all members of our university regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. I have been active in GU since my first year here in varying roles, and I’ve helped bring several events on campus to life like the Equality Gala, a yearly themed come-as-you-are ball, and Pride Week, an October week-long series of events that educate about and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.
Generals’ Unity is a much-needed organization in that it offers LGBTQ+ students here both lifelong friendships and an avenue for voicing their thoughts on how W&L could be improved to better welcome LGBTQ+ students.
Q: Have you had any mentors during your time at W&L?
The best thing – by far – about W&L is the professors here. My advisor, Associate Professor Sarah Horowitz of the History Department, has led me in many excellent classes, including “19th Century Scandal, Crime, and Spectacle” and “Paris: History, Image, Myth,” in which we studied memorialization through museums and photography in Paris during Spring Term my sophomore year. I can easily say that I wouldn’t have the confidence to tackle this honors thesis without her help!
Assistant Professor of Acting and Directing Jemma Levy, too, must have seen something in me when I first auditioned, because since then she has directed me in “Dracula,” “The Cherry Orchard” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Beyond her dedicated expertise in our theater history class together, she has pushed my creative potential and encouraged me to take risks both on and off the stage. I’m incredibly excited to explore London with her during our upcoming Spring Term trip, Shakespeare in Performance!
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More About Win
Q: Are you involved in any other non-academic activities?
I have worked on the editing team of Shenandoah, W&L’s literary journal (although this counted as a class.) I also work with W&L’s Traveller Safe Ride Program as a trainer for almost three years now!
Q: What’s your favorite restaurant or shop in Lex?
Just Games, an incredible board and card game store with the friendliest owners (who are W&L alumni!) you’ll ever meet.
Q: What do you usually get there?
They have an amazing selection of board games. My current favorite is Root!
Q: What one book or film do you recommend to everyone?
“Imagine Me Gone” by Adam Haslett. This love-filled family drama has incredible style and deep, authentic characters.
Q: Favorite W&L event?
The Equality Gala: it’s affordable, easy, inclusive and a TON of fun – they always bring amazing talent with the drag shows!
Q: Favorite spot on campus?
Although my study in Leyburn is a top contender, I have to go with the back-campus trails; they extend for hours and offer some easy light hiking.
Q: Favorite class so far?
This is the hardest one – I’ll have to go with Assistant Professor Taylor Walle’s “British Literature of the Slave Trade.” We had some of the best discussions I’ve ever had on campus and we conducted original research into traces of slavery in Rockbridge County and beyond. However, two very close contenders are Associate Professor Chris Gavaler’s “Advanced Creative Writing: Fiction” class for the astounding feedback, and Professor Horowitz’s “19th Century Crime, Scandal, and Spectacle” for the fascinating topics studied.
Q: Favorite W&L memory?
As trip leader for the Pre-Orientation Sustainability trip, playing the murder mystery game Body-Body with our first years as one of our nightly activities in the dark, deserted Office of Sustainability house. Nothing beats searching pitch-black houses for murderers in the dead of night.