Dr. Gregory Roper
Associate professor of English from Oak Cliff, Texas.
If you’re an English major, or you’ve had a class with Dr. Gregory Roper, you’re likely familiar with the phrase “scratch where it itches” in relation to academic pursuit. According to Roper, this is a phrase that originated with Americanist professor Perry Miller, who taught it to University of Virginia (UVA) professor Dr. Alan Howard, who passed it to Roper, who now continues to spread it to University of Dallas English students.
“Alan Howard, my professor, always wanted to share that attitude of chasing and pursuing knowledge,” Roper said. “He would come to class, light up a cigarette, and engage the class in a seminar that had every student involved and captivated.”
It is this philosophy of learning that Roper has implemented in his teaching methods and inspired within his students. It’s a mode of thinking that was born within him during his years as a UD student and has shaped him as a professor.
“I fell in love with the school; it was everything that I thought college should be,” Roper said. “I loved the arguing, the talking, the ideas and the way the professors took things very seriously.”
Roper started as a freshman in the fall of 1980, but, like many UD students, Roper did not initially intend to come to UD. Moreover, he never intended to pursue English as a career.
“I was a science guy,” Roper said. “I wanted to go to Rice. The reason I found UD to begin with was because my mom saw a scholarship application in the newspaper. I’d already submitted my application to Rice, but I thought, ‘hey, why not?’ My mom and I drove the application up to campus the day it was due.”
It was during his campus visit that his mind was opened to the prospect of UD:
“The interview itself was hilarious,” Roper said. “That day, a grad student asked me if I’d ever considered the philosophical way to truth as the same as the scientific way to truth, and I looked at her like she had three heads.”
Dr. Roper was also shocked to learn — as many are — that UD has an over 90% acceptance rate into medical school.
“Sybil Novinski was there, and she was convinced that I was so arrogant that they just had to get me to go there so they could teach me,” Roper said.
After receiving the scholarship, Roper decided to attend UD, and he quickly realized just how perfect the fit was for him. He was enamored with the strange new ideas that the students had, and how willing and eager they were to discuss them openly inside and outside of the classroom.
“I didn’t intend to play soccer in college, but I was asked to play for UD,” Roper said. “I met a lot of upperclassmen that way, and I was shocked to see the kind of characters that the team had. These were high achieving students that still played sports and had social lives. They even went to daily Mass. I thought that daily Mass was for old people and nut cases. But here these kids were, going to parties on weekends and getting 3.9 GPAs, while still maintaining a strong faith life.
“I had come from a suburban Texas high school and I hadn’t seen anything like this before — we had jocks, and science kids, and all other cliques, but never these kids that could do a bit of everything. Their ways challenged me and drew me out of these preconceived notions.
“We used to say that the best admissions counselor is the Holy Spirit, because none of us ever intended to come here, but we were all so changed by it when we did.”
It wasn’t until after the first semester of his junior year that Roper decided to pursue a degree in English, and it took until grad school for him to develop a love for teaching.
“When I was a [teacher assistant] at grad school at UVA, I realized how much I loved being in front of the classroom,” Roper said.
Although Roper enjoys teaching a full class of students, he said that being interviewed for Humans of UD was “uncomfortable and humbling.”
In 1999, when the job opportunity arose to teach at UD, Roper applied, and from 2000 onward, Roper has continued to bring his approach to learning to fruition within his students.
He attributes UD’s philosophy on the pursuit of knowledge to the core and the dynamic between students and professors.
“You can be in a class talking about a text of some sort, and a student will relate it to Boethius or Ovid, and the whole class will be able to partake in the conversation — because you’ve all read these texts in the Core classes,” Roper said.
The professors, each individual and unique, bring about the same desire for knowledge and understanding within their classroom dynamics.
“We all believe that truth exists, and that’s what brings us together in unity within our diversity,” Roper said. “I’m really proud of that.”