Gonzaga University professor and English department chair Ann Ciasullo has spent her career mentoring young people, many of them women taking her women’s and gender studies classes.
Ciasullo said she likes watching her students grow and mature and expand their knowledge. “I do feel like this isn’t a job, it’s a vocation for me,” she said. “I do feel called to teach.”
Her work, which includes helping create the Critical Racial and Ethnic Studies minor at Gonzaga, has prompted the YWCA to give her a Women of Achievement award in education. She is one of 10 women selected to receive a Women of Achievement award at the organization’s annual luncheon set for 11:30 a.m. Oct. 11 at the Spokane Convention Center. Tickets are $125 and available by calling (509) 789-9312.
Though Ciasullo was born in New York, she grew up in Spokane, graduating from Gonzaga Prep. She got a degree in English and French at Gonzaga University, spending a year of that time studying abroad in Paris. She quickly earned a master’s degree in English from Washington State University, then worked as an adjunct professor for a few years.
Her interest in women’s and gender studies was first sparked at Gonzaga when she took a class from Professor Mary Jo Bona her senior year. Bona mentored her, and the women still stay in touch.
The class she took made Ciasullo think about the role of gender.
“I think it gave me a way to understand parts of my own educational experience that didn’t make sense to me,” she said.
As an example, Ciasullo talks about her math classes. In high school, she took a lot of advanced classes, including in mathematics, that were about evenly split between male and female students. She even considered majoring in math in college. But when she got to Gonzaga and took her first math class, calculus, she was one of only three female students.
“It made me feel insecure about my own abilities, even though I was good at math,” she said.
When she was studying at WSU, she took classes from female professors who talked about feminist theory. That stuck with her when she arrived at the University of Kentucky to get a doctorate in English. She got it with a certificate in women’s and gender studies.
“By the time I got to Kentucky, I was ready to go all in,” she said.
Ciasullo taught at the University of Oregon and Spokane Falls Community College before taking a job at Gonzaga University in 2009. “It was not my plan to come back,” she said. “I applied and got it. It worked out well and it’s a great fit for me.”
One of the classes Ciasullo teaches every year is literary theory and cultural studies. In the class, students look at texts from different perspectives. She also teaches classes on sexual politics, women writers and 20th-century American literature.
“I love giving students different ways of seeing the world,” she said.
When she was a student at Gonzaga in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the university’s women’s and gender studies program was extremely small and included only one dedicated faculty member. The department, which Ciasullo chaired from 2015 to 2018, added a second dedicated faculty member this year.
“It’s really changed,” she said. “The course offerings have really grown.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is that most of the students interested in taking women’s and gender studies classes are women. That’s something that’s not unique to Gonzaga, Ciasullo said.
“That doesn’t seem to have changed even with the passage of time,” she said.
Ciasullo said there have been men in some of the classes, and she hopes to attract more.
“It’s really important that they’re there,” she said.
Ciasullo said she was puzzled when she initially got a call from the YWCA informing her she had been selected for the award.
“I really was speechless,” she said. “I didn’t understand. She explained what the award was, and I started crying.”
She feels honored to be selected but is also still a bit puzzled.
“I do not understand how I’m among all these accomplished women,” she said.