Why the University of Chicago Opposes Intellectual "Safe Spaces"
According to letter sent to income college freshmen, the University of Chicago will not use trigger warnings or act as a safe intellectual space for students.
Safe spaces and trigger warnings are alerts that warn people about potentially traumatic subjects. They can be used on university campuses to alleviate students' exposure to harmful concepts or situations that could potentially trigger traumatic memories — but not at the University of Chicago.
According to letter sent to income college freshmen, the University of Chicago will not use trigger warnings or act as a safe intellectual space for students. Instead, the institution insists that students engage in potentially conflicting intellectual debate. Dean of Students John Ellison explained the decision. The university’s independent newspaper The Chicago Maroon hailed the decision as "welcome":
This decision bucks recent trends at many US universities. Schools are creating safe spaces in order to soothe increasingly stressed out students. The University of Baltimore touts its safe space policies in order to embrace a more diverse student body.
The trend is troubling due to its tendency to label everything as challenging rather than foster critical thinking skills. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek elaborates on that thought here:
Despite all that, students are advocating for safe spaces. And universities are listening.
The University of Missouri had its president and chancellor forced to resign because students protested their abilities to create safe space for black students.
Brown University hosted a sexual assault debate and allowed students to organize a safe space with counselors, bubbles, and Play-Doh to comfort students who were disturbed by the subject matter.
DePaul University “denied a request to have conservative commentator Ben Shapiro give a speech at the university” due to lack of security, the Chicago Tribune reports. DePaul spokeswoman Carol Hughes explained: "DePaul University's Office of Public Safety determined, after observing events which took place when Mr. Shapiro spoke elsewhere, that it was not in a position to provide the type of security that would be required to properly host this event at this time."
Rutgers University had to scramble to replace Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a commencement speaker due to her student protest-driven cancellation.
As striking as those reasons are, there are other universities following Chicago’s lead for the sake of creating a culture of challenge. Indiana’s Purdue University did away with their safe space policy for many of the same reasons as the University of Chicago. Chairman Tom Spurgeon explains in a statement.
Our commitment to open inquiry is not new, but adopting these principles provides a clear signal of our pledge to live by this commitment and these standards… As we've said before, a university violates its special mission if it fails to protect free and open debate. No one can expect his views to be free from vigorous challenge, but all must feel completely safe in speaking out.
The University of Chicago made their decision for different reasons than Purdue. In Chicago’s case, they wanted to adhere to their charter. University President Robert Zimmer explained as much in a welcome letter to all students and faculty last fall, according to the Chicago Tribune:
Perhaps the most distinctive attribute of the University in its 125 years has been its deep and unwavering commitment to open discourse, free expression, and a singular focus on rigorous inquiry. The founders and first faculty members here, including President William Rainey Harper, viewed free expression as an essential basis for an institution where strength of ideas, not social standing or other considerations, would determine success in education and research.
Whether or not that’s true remains to be seen.
The biggest takeaway right now from this decision is that universities choose to create or abolish safe spaces for many different reasons. There is no broadstroke solution. Only time will tell if the University of Chicago’s decision will become the new trend -- and whether it caused any improvements in open discourse and rigorous inquiry.
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Here's the first evidence to challenge the "fastest sperm" narrative.
Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.
- The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
- Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
- These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.
Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.
A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.
Rethinking humanity's origin story
The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.
David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.
The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.
Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"
He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.
"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."
Migrating out of Africa
In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.
Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.
The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.
The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.
Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.
Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.
Did we head east or south of Eden?
Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.
Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.
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