Dr. Jane Goodall taught the one anthropology seminar in which I enrolled during my PhD program. I was lucky enough to attend the University of Southern California for my doctorate. While there, I enjoyed the advantages of many graduate students who attend major research institutions, attending lectures of notables in their field, courses by the visiting adjuncts whose contracts said they had to teach a seminar once every three years (or no research money), political luminaries who held alumni in thrall, lab tours of the world famous, and finally, throw back a beer or two with the graduate students of said luminaries. Dr. Goodall was one of those.
In 1990, Dr. Goodall joined the faculty of USC as a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Anthropology and Occupational Science. Her contract asked her to deliver occasional lectures and seminars at USC and to take graduate students into her various programs around the world in exchange for a research center to be built on campus. The Jane Goodall Research Center sends USC graduate students to conduct research on the behavior of wild apes and other primates, and also stores data from the Gombe Research Center. The center focuses on studying primates in their natural habitats for the lessons they can teach about the human condition.
Entering the class, I was a bit apprehensive. I was a psychology student with a special interest in human behavior and social workings. It made sense that I wanted to be there. I was one of four non-anthropology students in attendance.
Dr. Goodall began the class by teaching us a greeting that chimpanzees would normally give in Gombe. I remember this especially, as it struck me as odd, but cool at the same time. Dr. Goodall was passionate about two subjects: her chimpanzees (never chimps) and the plight of women.
Her lectures were well ordered, and she was well-spoken. She delivered her information in exactly the way she wanted it to be delivered. I took notes about this, since I knew I would soon be in the classroom myself.
She told us about her family and their reaction to her desires. She said: “I was the wrong sex. I was a mere girl, and girls didn’t do that sort of thing … and yet, I never heard a single word from my family suggesting that I might not be able to achieve my dreams. My sister and I were told by our mother that if you really want something and you work hard and you take advantage of opportunity and you never give up, you will find a way.”
I also noted the thing that I will never forget her saying, and have tried to take to heart. “The only difference [between humans and the rest of the Animal Kingdom…sic] is that we have a sophisticated language, so it has led to the explosive development of the human intellect. Therefore, why is it that the most intellectual species that has ever walked the planet is destroying it? Is there a disconnect between the clever head and the human heart?”
I also remember the greeting. So if I am ever in Gombe . . .
Photo from Jane Goodall