An assistant professor of sociology at the University of San Diego for three-plus years, Nunn’s acceptance of a faculty job opening in the department did more than fill a void, it brought to campus someone who complements the passion and energy of her students.
“I’m enamored with the students, they’re really great, really engaged, really social justice-oriented,” Nunn said. “They want to learn about the problems facing the American education system, make changes as they prepare to move into the world and make it better. They want to get their hands dirty. They’re tutoring and volunteering in the local schools, not just reading the textbook and taking tests. They put the information they’ve learned to work and improve people’s lives. Their spirit of engagement at the community level is so inspiring to me.”
The feeling is mutual toward Nunn, who received the USD Women’s Center’s 2012 Woman of Impact Faculty Award at its Dec. 7 luncheon. An excerpt from a letter nominating Nunn for the award praised the professor’s willingness to go beyond the classroom to provide an opportunity for a healthy discussion.
“Not only are most of her classes geared toward the promotion of social justice or issues surrounding society, but she also practices the principles of her classes in all of her affairs,” said the anonymous nominator’s letter. “Dr. Nunn invited all of her students to dinner who have openly come out to her as gay/lesbian. During dinner, we discussed LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) issues and met with the cast of her self-directed documentary, ‘Excluded’ … Dr. Nunn encourages and fosters new ways of thinking and working in the USD community each and every day by being an activist for LGBT rights (as a straight ally), for going the extra mile and by teaching classes and promoting values based on equality.”
Nunn, who teaches in the sociology department’s community, urbanization and culture concentration, covers a lot of ground. Her research areas include sociology of education, organizations, cultural sociology, gender and sexuality, identity, visual sociology and social psychology. She’s currently working on a book manuscript based on her PhD dissertation, called “Identity and the Pursuit of School Success: Understandings of Intelligence and Effort in Three High Schools.” At USD, Nunn is also a Safe Space Ally, a designation that, after a mandatory 2.5-hour training program, gives the campus community access to a person they can talk to about all issues openly and safely.
“To be a faculty member here and in my department means that you care deeply about students’ lives and their learning,” Nunn said. “I have 100 students and I know every single one of my students’ names. I care about our students as whole people, about their lives, not just as names on an exam or an essay,” she said.
Nunn said one of the best aspects of teaching sociology is that she doesn’t have to convince students that the concepts matter.
“They can see them every day in their own lives. That’s one thing that makes teaching sociology particularly rewarding. Students can bring their own lives into the conversation.”
Nunn said her classes often begin organically with a conversation. “I had one student who encountered a homeless man in his 20s and asked him about it,” she recalled. “That’s how class started. The student really wanted to share and talk about it.”
Her willingness to delve into all kinds of issues provides a welcoming environment for students. The Woman of Impact nomination letter, Nunn said, validated what she wants to do for students.
“I feel proud that what I’ve been able to develop in the three-plus years has been so meaningful to people,” said. “(The letter) validates what I’ve done and the description, talking about the dinner at my house, helps me want to become more resourceful, creative and active about doing that kind of thing because it’s made an impact.”
— Ryan T. Blystone