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Q&A with Onnie Rogers

onnie rogers in class with students
Psychology professor Onnie RogersImage: Monika Wnuk

By Clare Milliken
December 5, 2018
Online Exclusives
1 Response

Developmental psychologist Onnie Rogers examines how kids and adolescents make sense of their identities. A former collegiate gymnast and a mother of two young children, Rogers now has a front-row seat to kids’ identity development both at work and after hours. Northwestern Magazine caught up with Rogers — and her daughter Phoenix — to learn more about their lives.

How do you manage email?

I don’t open an email unless I have time to reply to it. This ends up saving me a good deal of time because then I don’t read the email two or three times before I actually do something about it.

What skills from your collegiate gymnastics career do you use today?

Time management, for sure. I grew up doing gymnastics — I started competing when I was 6 — so my childhood all the way through college always involved “gymnastics plus _____.” From the time I was about 10, I trained 20 to 25 hours a week. So I always had a very big chunk of my day occupied, and whether it was homework or time with friends, it all had to fit within the remaining hours.

I’ve never had free space, and the life of an academic is similar in that writing and doing research is a constant chunk of time that you need to spend. Everything else has to fit in around it.

Do you still do gymnastics?

I don’t. I always tell people that gymnastics is not a pickup sport: You don’t just go to the gym for a quick game. I am coaching now, though, because my daughter Phoenix does gymnastics.

What’s your go-to music?

When I’m writing, I listen to instrumental and classical music. But at home, we’ve been listening to The Greatest Showman soundtrack. That’s a family favorite.

When do kids start to understand and make sense of their identity?

Pretty early. By the time kids are 7 or 8, they’re really tuned into a lot of the same concepts adults and adolescents use. If you’re talking to kids about what race means, or what their gender means, you hear a lot of the same things as you hear with older people. Maybe not as sophisticated or elaborate, but elementary ideas about race and gender are really present in young kids.

Onnie Rogers on steps

Rogers with her daughter Phoenix. PHOTO: MONIKA WNUK

How do you unwind?

Yoga. I practice hot yoga here in Evanston, which I love. I’ve practiced yoga for seven or eight years, and it’s one of my favorite pastimes. I also really enjoy reading and eating chocolate.

What are you reading?

I’m on the last chapter of The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog. It’s written by a clinical psychologist, and it’s about early childhood trauma. The other book I just finished was Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist, which is by Franchesca Ramsey. She was an internet sensation overnight, and her book is about her journey. That was a good one. 

Phoenix: Skating Is Hard When You’re Homesick. It’s about kids who are playing sports, and they all have different troubles. 

Who inspires you?

Certainly my kids. I wouldn’t be working in this way if it wasn’t for them. It just wouldn’t be worth it if it wasn’t something important and something that mattered, not only to my career, but to them and the kind of world that we’re creating for them to grow up in. I’m also inspired by my family — my mom and dad. I was the first in my family to go to college. My parents sacrificed so much and really believed in me and supported me and continue to do so — that’s always in my mind. It’s both a motivator and a reminder of how much change can happen in a generation.

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Reader Responses

  • Hi, Onnie,

    I just loved reading about your work. You are amazing and just continuing in what I already knew was your fantastic style in life. I am so proud to know you as an NU alum, and so pleased that gymnastics and Carly brought our families together so many years ago. Best wishes for the New Year!

    Kathleen Mahan ’69 Seattle, Wash.

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