By Josh Carmel
Dr. Brett Rogers was not born, contrary to the dubious implication of the headline, under any remarkable circumstances. His life sprang into existence as most do, the perfunctory mechanisms of peculiar biological plotting, with the firmaments of family already established in a California suburb.
“I was born in Escondido, California, it’s a terrible suburb northeast of San Diego, in 1977,” Rogers said. “So that makes me… just before Star Wars came out… I beat Star Wars by a couple of months. So, I would like to think of myself as B.D. – Before Darth. If I had a numbering system, I was born two months B.D.”
Despite the witticisms conveyed by the Assistant Professor of both Classics and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, as well as the often jovial atmosphere through which they were communicated, Rogers’s lively narrative is punctuated by a sweeping profundity, which belies the nature of humorous retorts.
As a senior at Orange Glen High School, Rogers was introduced to a host of different teachers and encountered academic subjects which he still avidly pursues today.
“I went to this public high school that had all of these freaks and geeks teaching in it, like amazing people,” Rogers said. “One of them was a St. John’s College graduate by the name of Richard Brown…and over the course of his 30 years teaching at Orange Glen High School…He had put together a humanities course that was modeled off his experience at St. John’s College, so it was meant to be a kind of hybrid of the humanities and sciences.”
Rogers cites Brown’s course as a notable academic influence, providing exposure to a large gambit of writers and a formidable onslaught of contrasting perceptions.
“One day we would be reading about The Iliad, the next day we would be reading about Stephen Hawking and Big Bang Theory…One day we would read Nietzsche, one day we would read The Quran, and it was this incredible intellectual experience,” said Rogers.
Subsequent to his four years at Orange Glen, Rogers enrolled in Reed College, a prestigious liberal arts institution located in Portland, Oregon.
“The first day of class you sing the first line of The Iliad in ancient Greek, which I still inflict upon my students periodically,” said Rogers. “The humanities class [at Reed] ended up becoming a really formative cultural experience for me.”
As an undergraduate, Rogers was privy not only to a vast array of academia, but also the unusually potent crucible of social innovation.”
“To give you a really concrete example: in 1993 a bunch of students at Reed were involved in what’s called the Barbie Liberation Organization,” said Rogers. “What they did was take a bunch of talking G.I. Joes and Barbie dolls that they bought, switched the voice chips and snuck them back into stores so that when parents bought them for kids for the holidays, the kids would open up and Barbie says like ‘Dead men tell no tales!’ Since age 18 that [the effects of the BLO on gender perception] has always been a part of how I think about the world.”
Rogers also spent time, throughout his four years at Reed, cultivating an already burgeoning musical passion and performing in the band Atomic Swerve, which, in his words, was an “homage to Lucretius,” the prolific Roman poet.
“If all my academic work is highly self-critical, my musical stuff is decidedly not,” said Rogers. “I don’t know music theory that well, so for me music is about what I hear…I’m a total music harlot.”
Rogers credits the “architectural sophistication” of Radiohead as a significant influence, and currently can be seen straddling the tenuous line between musical eclecticism and harmonic ingenuity as a member of The Gettysburg Pirate Orchestra.
“We’re a combination of Blue Grass, Americana, Folk, and Pop,” said Rogers. “We’re five distinct personalities…who all bring different ideas to the table. We have nothing to do with pirates, fans dress up…we encourage them to make paper hats.”
After the completion of his undergraduate education, Rogers attended graduate school at Stanford University, where he studied abroad at the American School in Athens.
“I went because they paid for it,” said Rogers. “It’s always good when you can trick your grad school into paying for things.”
Despite the explicit acknowledgment that “it was the right thing,” Rogers expressed regret about making the transition so hastily.
“I didn’t quite get all of the Portland out of my system,” said Rogers. “For me, college experience should be defined in some sense by what the culture of the campus does. I sort of ask myself about Gettysburg. What makes a Gettysburg student, a Gettysburg student? How do we do that in a way that is good for everybody?”
When asked above the possible achievement of passion at Gettysburg, Rogers, who began at the College in 2008, had this to say:
“I see a potential for it. Gettysburg is interesting, it’s clearly in a state of transition. First it’s this 1832 school [with] traditional education…and…then…the battle changes the landscape a bit and it becomes a regional college. Then sometime in the 70s or 80s they decide, ‘No, we want to be a national college,’ and so…we’re still in some sense feeling the effects of that.”
It is important to note, at this ill-placed juncture in the profile, that Rogers’s explicit achievements are mirrored by philosophically complex implicit tenets. Any fragment of conversation, as any who have spoken to him can surely attest, is motivated by melodic fervor and animated by a stringent belief in empathy.
“I value empathy… and trying to think through the different perspectives in a way that is not sympathetic,” said Rogers. “I feel like sympathy is interesting because it is really easy to claim it, but you haven’t been in the other person’s shoes. I am more interested in what I have to do to myself to sort of have a deeper connection to your suffering.”
“I hate the golden rule,” Rogers continued. “It fails to ask the question, well what does the other person want…it always assumes that the other person wants what you want. I am interested in a revision: ‘Do unto others as they would like done unto them,’ which means you have to get to know them. That is the moral issue that underlies everything I do.”
Perhaps as a consequence of such an inveterate belief, in conjunction with the wayward construction of fate, Rogers has adopted an iterant personality, living in almost all four corners of the United States.
“I lived in the Southwest because I was born there,” said Rogers. “I lived in the Northwest because it wasn’t the Southwest, and I love Oregon.” I lived in Georgia because that was my first job out of grad school, my second being at Gettysburg. I lived in the Bay Area because I went to Stanford, and I spent part of the summer in New York because I’m sort of obsessed with it. You learn something new about the U.S… [it] is such a fascinating, weird place.”
Both movement and pop culture have played seminal roles in Rogers’s life, and he credits the former with his initial involvement in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
“I would say the cool thing about growing up in Southern California is that you grow up with a relationship to pop culture that is grossly tied to the production of it,” said Rogers. “And so, I grew up reading comic books, pretty avidly, and watching a lot of television and film and really into music…I grew up in a series of very particular moments that ended up having an impressive impact on the way pop culture is shaped.”
It is that notion, as well as Rogers’s inherent belief in acceptance and empathetic interaction, which, either directly or indirectly, influenced his desire to teach.
“I was into this the whole way,” said Rogers. “What’s the better place to attack, do you attack culture or legislation? Legislation always lags behind culture, so if you can change how people think, persuade other people that there are better ways to think, then the legislation will follow. [I want to] invite people to approach their lives differently, and hope that they will invite me to approach my life differently. I have to be flexible too.”
As a professor, philosopher, and student, Dr. Brett Rogers has experienced the distant din of classical Greece and Rome, as well as the pertinent clamor of pop culture. Each of these subjects impact his persona and create an interesting dichotomy, a convoluted concoction of the antiquated and the current. He has taken what was once unremarkable, as the tale began, and crafted circumstance to form something meaningful.
“Make a choice and own that choice,” said Rogers. “That ownership is important…and that’s much better than owning property.”