WGS Professor Jamie Capuzza makes the most of her year at Sewanee

Dr. Jamie Capuzza. Photo courtesy of Capuzza.

By Anna Pusok
Staff Writer

When asked how she ended up in Sewanee for a year, Dr. Jamie Capuzza, visiting women’s and gender studies professor from University of Mount Union, said, “Fortunately, my university is able to support sabbaticals, typically used for research. There is the option to do a year, and I thought at this stage of my career I paid my dues, so it’s nice to be able to take an entire year and really concentrate on a larger project.”  

As the most senior professor in her home institution with 28 years under her belt, Professor Capuzza thought she deserved a year away, and is spending her sabbatical in Sewanee teaching an Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course and working on her book.

She described writing as “an active discovery,” saying, “You start one place, and you think you’re going to end somewhere, but then you make a turn and end up somewhere very different.” She further explained, “The book was supposed to be about men’s contributions to the women’s suffrage movement. I’ve always been interested in researching kind of the ‘odd men out.’ Why do men help so much to women to get the right to vote? I think there is a lot of good work done there for men who didn’t get credit, and they deserve that. That’s how I started.”

Then she laughed and continued, “Since there was so much work done in this topic before, I had to focus my topic to my home state, Ohio. There are a lot of books published about individual states in women’s suffrage, but no one’s published one about Ohio, that played a very central role in the movement, so I do think I fill an important knowledge gap.” 

Capuzza spends most of her free time doing research for her book. “I don’t think people realize just how much time it takes to write a book.  Sometimes, when I go to the library and I look at the shelves, I think about all the blood, sweat, and tears that went to produce every one of those books.” Overall, she had five student researchers in Sewanee who helped her with the process.

In her home institution, she typically teaches three communication courses, which could range anything from public speaking to film criticism. Capuzza said, “In 28 years, I taught every communication course that exists, but I also teach gender studies classes.”

Besides teaching, Capuzza serves as the chair of the communication department all while running the gender studies program, which leaves her little time to focus on research and writing, so most of her published works are research journal articles.

Although she is fully invested in these academic disciplins now, she was not always sure what she wanted to study. Capuzza commented, “I was one of those students who was a big believer in a liberal arts school, and I loved everything. I wanted to major in everything at once.” At the end of her fourth year, she graduated from Mount Union College as a communication and English double-major. After she received her undergraduate degree, she went to Ohio State University, where she completed both her master’s and Ph.D. in rhetoric, which she remarked as the “study of how messages impact people.”

For the question of why she decided to teach, she answered, “I graduated having no idea what I wanted to do for a living. Later that summer, though, I realized the answer has literally been staring me in the face the last four years. I knew right then, I needed to go to grad school and the rest is history.” She said about teaching that, “I think everybody wants a job that they are good at, and I was good at studying.  I think every teacher teaches because, deep down, they love to learn. Being a professor, I get to be a forever student, and I wanted a job that would let me travel.”

She was brought into the field of women’s and gender studies later, when she started to work in New York. “They had a very active women’s studies department. They were very inclusive and made an extra special effort to reach out to new women who had been hired to teach there including myself.”

Here in Sewanee, she teaches only the introductory course, which she sees as “the place where students really come into their own and find their identity and have their feminist consciousness-raising moment.” She continued, “I love teaching the Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course, but I also love teaching the International Perspectives one, too, because it’s important to take international perspective on any topics, especially on gender because it’s so cultural.  I’m lucky I can teach such interesting things!”

This summer, she’ll teach the International Perspectives on Gender course in Chile for Sewanee students, as well as for students in her home institution. “I’ve been very fortunate to teach in a number of countries. I’ve taught in Mexico, Spain, China, and India. My favorite thing about my job is to take students abroad.”

Capuzza said of studying abroad that it is “the most important and life-changing learning experience a student can have. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it is. As a teacher, I can tell. I literally see the light bulbs go on above people’s heads as they go through their day,” she laughed. She didn’t have the chance to go abroad while she was a student, so she spends time trying to make up for the lost opportunity.

She further explained, “I’m very excited to take students this summer to Santiago, Chile. The course is International perspective on gender. That essentially the course I’m teaching now, except every single class period we look at the topic in an international perspective instead of domestic.” 

Visiting new places is one of the pieces of advice that she would like to give to her students. “Try everything you possibly can. Try to study away, do internships away. Take classes you never thought you would be interested in ”