Advocate for Change
Dr. Scott Gust leads the charge on confronting privilege
by Autumn Thatcher (MSC ’15)
Professor Scott Gust is easily recognizable on Westminster’s campus. His bright-red
hair—often cut into an envy-inducing style—paired with chic glasses that tend to change
colors with the seasons make him easy to point out. In addition to his savvy sense
of fashion, Scott is making his mark on the college community through his dedication
to activism—primarily within the realm of diversity.
“It’s my life’s work,” Scott explains. “My contributions are in professional expertise and through my personal identity and commitment. I focus what I do on building a more diverse culture at the college.”
A Canadian native, Scott spent the early part of his career dazzling audiences through musical theatre. Growing up gay in a small community meant that Scott experienced a significant amount of harassment at school. He often skipped school to avoid bullies, and when he did go, he would not drink anything in the mornings so that he wouldn’t have to use the bathroom at school. His decision to pursue music stemmed from a desire to be safe. “I had talent in music, but in retrospect, being in the arts was the only place where people weren’t mean to me,” Scott explains.
Scott found his home in the performing arts, but ironically, it was a question posed by the producer of a musical he was stage managing that led him back to the academic realm. The producer was what Scott refers to as an ally of the gay community, yet when watching an actor he had cast in his production, he asked,
“That guy is so talented, but how can I make him less gay?”
“The script was not specific about sexuality,” Scott says. “It was really hard for me to figure out how to answer this question coming from a kind, supportive ally who’s feeling trapped by this. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to answer those questions if I stayed in musical theatre.”
It was not long before the theatre curtains closed for Scott, and he embarked on an academic quest to answer the question, “How do we live this paradox where even good people get positioned by culture to do bad things?” In his doctoral cohort at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Scott was one of 10 students—all of whom came from diverse backgrounds. “I was tremendously fortunate to have been in those classes with women of color, particularly women of color who were incredibly brilliant and had such a powerful and generous orientation toward going to grad school together,” Scott says. “I got to listen to them talk about what it meant to be a woman of color and a mother of a black son. I got to be there when they engaged this complex theory of race and gender and identity and culture. I got to be there when they processed what that meant to them.”
He describes the experience as a pivotal moment in his life—one that triggered an “aha” moment that led him to where he is today. “I thought it was unbelievable that schlumpy old me got to be there to hear them talk about those things,” Scott says. “It’s so breathtaking to be part of a community that has been built so intentionally, to hear what women and men of color and immigrants think about when they read some of the most powerful scholarly literature about power, privilege, and difference. I had to figure out what my contribution is. I had an obligation to find ways to do whatever I could to keep moving that discourse forward.”
Years later, Scott continues to move the discourse forward in his role as associate dean of arts and sciences at Westminster. He also serves as the Title IX deputy coordinator. He works hard to generate diversity awareness on campus and is recognized by students and alums as a source of not only trust, but also acceptance. As Scott enters his second decade at the college, he hopes to educate community members on how to confront their privileges. “On the most direct and personal level, it means believing people when they say things that don’t resonate with you. It starts in belief and disbelief,” Scott says.
Scott believes that if community members can actively allow others to be heard—even when the subject matter is painful to accept—and confront their own privileges, then it’s a small step in the right direction toward positive change. “It’s asking questions of what does it mean to believe outside of your own experience—and believing outside of your experience,” Scott says. “In some ways, I think it’s profoundly hopeful and profoundly humane.”
Favorite social justice organization: American Civil Liberties Union
Best TV show ever: The Golden Girls
Proudest athletic achievement: Alternate member of championship high school curling team
Most cherished mentor: Dr. Kathy Hytten, professor of educational leadership and cultural foundations, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Civil Rights heroines: Ella Baker and Sylvia Rivera
Favorite Westminster alum: You—totally you.
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.