Babson Magazine

Fall 2015

Assume Nothing

In her search for wisdom, philosophy professor Rosa Slegers likes to blur boundaries, make people uncomfortable (if only a little), and poke fun.

Rosa Slegers, MBA’13
Photo: Webb Chappell
Rosa Slegers with her 1965 three-speed bike, which she rebuilt and uses to commute to Babson

Rosa Slegers, MBA’13, associate professor of philosophy, has been thinking about updating her name on Babson’s website. Born in the Netherlands, her actual name is Roos, but most Americans have a difficult time pronouncing the Dutch name. When she describes how her name should be pronounced—it doesn’t rhyme with moose, but has a guttural “r” and sounds something like “rrroasjsj”—you understand why. “When I try to sound it out for Americans, they think I have a lisp,” she says.

Slegers grew up an hour south of Amsterdam in a small town, at the edge of a patch of dunes, where her parents still live. Coming from a country that has more bicycles than residents, she literally has ridden on bikes since birth, albeit for the first few years of her life as a passenger. “This is fairly common in the Netherlands,” she says. An affinity for the two-wheeled transportation has stuck with Slegers, who lives in a Boston apartment and keeps five bicycles in the basement. She adores each one for different reasons and rides them all regularly, including to commute to Babson.

An early love of Latin and books, especially Greek mythology, started Slegers on the path to studying philosophy. “We have no school sports in the Netherlands,” she says. “It’s just not part of the landscape. Taking Latin and Greek was a cool thing to do. Once you start with Latin and Greek, the connection to philosophy is very blurry—you kind of roll into it.”

Slegers stayed in Europe for college, studying Latin, Greek, literary theory, and philosophy in the Netherlands and Belgium, but she decided to come to Fordham University in New York City for her doctorate. Heading to the States for the first time, with English as her second language, was daunting. But Slegers wanted a more interdisciplinary approach to her philosophy studies, and Fordham offered an intriguing program. “I think philosophy is most interesting when it’s applied to other areas rather than, you know, let’s question ‘being’ by itself. That’s great, but that’s just not my thing,” says Slegers. “I really like to combine philosophy with literature and that kind of interdisciplinary work.”

Writing philosophy papers in English was, as she puts it, “a bit of a transition.” But Slegers thrived in the program and in New York City. “When I was a kid, summer camp was horrifying. I’d get terribly homesick. So to move to the U.S., which was obviously rather far away, I was surprised that actually in the Bronx I can’t remember getting homesick,” she says. “It was a huge adventure.”

After graduating in 2007, Slegers moved to Kentucky for an assistant professor position in a philosophy department at a small college. Although she felt flattered to be offered a tenure track right out of graduate school, and the campus was beautiful and the people welcoming, Slegers still felt isolated. Her short hair, accent, and bicycle-riding ways made her stand out in the community. “I’d be shopping in Wal-Mart, which was basically the only game in town, and people would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you’re the woman on the bicycle, right?’ Because, yeah, I was the only one,” she says.

Two years later, she made the move to Babson. Slegers admits that she wasn’t sure how much fun teaching philosophy to business students would be. “But it turned out great,” she says.

To Slegers, philosophy becomes more thought-provoking when it can be applied to other subjects—in this case, business. She likes prodding students to look at their world in new ways, such as asking them to step back and critically evaluate what they might take for granted, what assumptions they might have, or how they define success. “College should be a time when you are forced to question those things. That doesn’t mean you stop valuing them. It just means you’ve critically reflected on them, and I really enjoy trying to provide the tools and the framework to ask those questions,” she says.

Slegers teaches a range of courses to all four years of undergraduates, from “Intro to Philosophy,” to “Love and Agony,” to “Ethics,” to an entire semester on evil. In each course, she challenges students to break away from the practical thinking often required for business courses. “I’ve really been surprised at how much they get into it,” she says. “That’s been so satisfying.” Still an avid reader, she brings many of her favorite books into her classroom teachings. Slegers also incorporates TV shows that she “loves to hate,” programs she says are so ridiculous that they’re fun to watch. “I like to use subjects like these in class because people can be intimidated by philosophy,” she says, “and when you bring in these topics, they think, OK, maybe this is not so hard.”

On the graduate level, Slegers says she “parachutes” into the curriculum, teaching an ethics session during orientation and individual sessions as a visitor to other classes throughout the year. With only a short amount of time, Slegers focuses on giving students tools that they can use to question the ethical reasoning behind their actions. “The idea is to get them to a place of awkward self-honesty. You’re justifying your actions, but can you take seriously the nagging feeling you get?” says Slegers. “Are you going to push that away and carry on? Or are you going to hone in on it and ask, what went wrong here? And ask questions about it, and so kind of formalize what otherwise is this vague sense of unease.”

After a day of teaching and meetings, Slegers loves hopping on her bike and riding home. She avoids busy roads, which adds a few miles to her ride, but she doesn’t mind. Sometimes she’ll ride along the Charles River or, if the day has been particularly stressful, add a few hilly stretches. “Riding puts me in a completely different state of mind,” she says. “By the time I arrive home, I tend to feel relaxed.”