Mills Biology Professor Jenn Smith Delivers Commencement Speech at UCLA’s Institute of Society and Genetics

Oakland, CA–June 30, 2016

Spotted hyenas cooperate in hunting, warfare and territorial defense. Bottlenose dolphins surround a baby whale and its mother to protect them from sharks.

These are just two examples of how humans can learn from non-human animals to “promote a more equitable society,” according to Mills College Biology Professor Jenn Smith, who recently explored the idea during a commencement speech at the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics.

“When given the opportunity to intervene on behalf of others, do you lend a helping hand?” Smith asked during her speech titled, “The Value of Non-Traditional Perspectives to Human Societies.”

Her answer infers that humans should take a page out of the non-human playbook.

 “My recent studies of leadership in human and non-human mammals elucidate the importance of cooperation in promoting a more equitable and just society,” Smith told graduates. “Most non-human mammals, including species ranging from elephants to zebras, favor leaders with the most experience and those producing outcomes that, on average, benefit the majority of the members of society rather than just a few.”

In her address, Smith urged graduating students to look at the world from different perspectives and stay true to their roots.