Dr. Jaye Rogers is a history professor, as well as the chair of the department of history and politial science at AU. She has been at AU since 1996. She received her PhD from Union University in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: I was born in Appalachia, right on the Ohio river. My grandparents were illiterate; most people in my family got out of high school and that’s about it. We moved to Northwest Indiana to the steel mills when I was little and I was in an environment that suggested women could do more than just stay home and cook and clean. I had a really fabulous father. My generation of women—especially in my economic class—were not taught to really think about our careers. But my father believed that I could go on to do a lot more, so when I was all lined up to work at the steel mill he pushed me to do something else.
I went into the military so I could have the GI Bill; I was in the women’s army corps. At the time, you joined the women’s army corps and you were attached to the regular military unit where the men were. While I was in basic training, they did away with the women’s army corps so I was moved into the United States Army. I was in the first group of women who had to go through the exact same training as the men. So that got me the GI Bill which gave me some educational benefits. I was married and had three kids. I started college at New Mexico State University for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and went to Ohio University for my PhD. When they lost their PhD program, I finished up at Union University in Cincinnati. So it’s been a long journey.
Q: What brought you to AU?
A: I have always really liked to do research and liked to write, but I’ve always preferred the teaching aspect of [being a professor]. So I wanted to teach at a smaller school because when you go to a bigger school, some of the emphasis is on teaching but they really demand that you do a lot of research and writing. I just feel like my real calling is to be in the classroom, so that meant a smaller school for me.
I did not grow up in a church family but I eventually came to my faith and was really attracted to the idea of a Christian college that was open to different ideas. I didn’t want somewhere that was very rigid-—you have to belong to this or that denomination. Even though I’m a veteran, I ended up in one of the most pacifistic churches in the country, Church of the Brethren. So I can be here, and I won’t be criticized for being a pacifist and a veteran. I can be here and be a woman and not run into any problems centered around that aspect of who I am. I’m outspoken and blunt, and I needed a place that was going to accept me for who I am. And that’s here. It’s always been a very comfortable fit for me.
Q: What has kept you at AU?
A: My primary interest and area of study for the past thirty-something years is U.S. foreign policy. And when you study foreign policy, you have to also understand the motivations of the countries you’re negotiating with. So that means you’re looking at various areas of the world, and you become a specialist not just in U.S. foreign policy, but also political history. My other fields of specialization are Russian-Soviet, Latin American and Asian histories, which means that I can teach a greater variety [of classes]. I don’t like teaching two sections of the same course every semester. I like the variety; it helps me stay sharp. That means every semester—except for Women in the World, which I teach every semester—I’m teaching three other completely different courses. So I have nine or ten courses that I teach in a two-year rotation, and I really like that variety.
My superpower is organizational skills, which is how I can juggle all these things. I’m really good at time management, and the university has given me opportunities to use that. I’m also the director of assessment, which means I’m not just teaching, but there is more variety within my day. I can have a day where I’m working on assessments, and the next day I’m teaching all day, and the day after that I’m putting together the NSSE survey that we do as part of our assessments. That variety is really interesting for me.
But this is also just a wonderfully supportive community. I have good friends here. My youngest daughter has grown up here from the age of four and my middle daughter graduated from high school in Anderson. Both of those daughters went to school [at AU]. So there are people here that were my daughters’ professors, and it’s just like another family. I really like that. When I’ve gone through hard times—like when my mother died—this is the community that I’m a part of. And I don’t have to explain stuff, people are just there asking what I might need.
Q: What are your fields of specialty, and what kinds of research have you done?
A: My favorite course has been Women in the World for years and years, because I have a specialization in women’s studies. Also, because I am a woman who has worked. When I graduated college, there were fifty students graduating with a degree in foreign policy and I was the only woman. So that’s a field woman didn’t used to go into and now there are quite a few of us. Back then, we had never even had a female Secretary of State. I’ve grown up in a man’s world, really. But I’m very interested in women becoming a more visible part of the world, and equality in terms of pay and opportunity. Women in the World allows me to teach about my first love of history, encompassing all parts of the world and all time periods. I can talk about what has changed and what hasn’t [for women].
My dissertation was on missionary women in the Congo. I picked that particular topic because at the time, the Congo was being absolutely destroyed by the King of Belgium, who was trying to harvest as much rubber as he could. What you had were African American and white women missionaries who were the ones that translated the Bible into the Congolese language. What I focused on was that during the time they were there, you had a lot of Jim Crow laws going on in America. There was a lot of separation between races. And these women, unlike the men, who still had a certain power structure, crossed over the color line. They shared clothes, they took care of each other’s children, they ate meals together, they helped deliver each other’s babies, they became very close friends. As much as we can see, they maintained that friendship even when they came back to the U.S. So I’m always looking for stuff like that; that’s a big part of my research.
Q: Why is learning about history important to you?
A: My father was a really wonderful storyteller. After dinner, he would push his chair back and start telling these historical stories. They were especially about his family who had gone through the Great Depression and had accomplished so much, and my aunt who was in the women’s army corps. My dad would tell these stories, and as it started out, I probably did this so I wouldn’t have to do the dishes. But two hours later, I would find myself still sitting there listening to him. And I realized that first and foremost, historians are storytellers. You have to share history in a way that interests people.
What also fascinates me is that history isn’t just this dead subject. Really what you’re doing is bringing it back to life. What you’re doing right this moment is in some way making history. [History is] a living, breathing organism. That’s what I try to point out—that where you are today is a result of what all these other people have done before you, and your children and grandchildren will feel the impact of what you do today. This continuous cycle is just fascinating to me. And I’m really good with data so it all just sticks in my head. All those details are just part of the story. For me, history is a ‘once upon a time,’ and we never conclude because it just keeps going. I just kind of live and breathe history.