ASU's Origins Project will explore why we fear others

March 8, 2012

Separating the world into “in” groups and “out” groups is a long held trait of humans and other species on Earth. It has evolved along with the life forms that harbor it.

Is the reason for xenophobia a competition for resources? Is it based on deep-seated survival instincts? Is it in our genes? Has the time come to change it? Download Full Image

All of these questions will be addressed by ASU’s Origins Project in two public events that will explore “Xenophobia, why do we fear others?” on March 30 and 31.

“Immigration is a good current example of xenophobia,” said Lawrence Krauss, director of Origins. “Why is it that we, of all societies, fear immigrants like we do today? It has become nearly a daily topic in the news and a political hot point for those who want to be president. Do we need to change this thinking given Earth’s dwindling natural resources and the need to think globally about the sustainability of the planet, and not just consider the health of a society or country?”

To explore this, Origins will host two public events. One will detail the world of ants, where the protection of in groups has graphic and lethal consequences. The second will address broader manifestations of xenophobia and explore whether the time has come to change this behavior. In addition, Science Friday, NPR’s weekly science program, will address xenophobia in a portion of its broadcast on March 30, Krauss said.

Here are details of the two public events:

War and Peace in the World of Ants

6 p.m., March 30, room 191, Life Sciences A wing. Free, non-ticketed.

Pulitzer-Prize winning author and ASU Foundation professor Bert Hoelldobler will explain the world of ants and the parallels between ant and human conflict. This is the dilemma of social evolution – wherever closely integrated societies exist there is discrimination and rejection of foreigners.

The Great Debate: Xenophobia, why do we fear others?

7 p.m., March 31, Gammage Auditorium. This is a ticketed event. Tickets are now on sale, contact Gammage Box Office, (480) 965-3434 or Ticketmaster.

Is our instinct to form "in" groups and "out" groups – such an important part of our evolutionary history – now maladaptive as we face a future increasingly dependent upon cooperation and shared responsibilities toward limited resources?

The panel will discuss the biological and sociological dimensions of xenophobia. The panel includes:

Rebecca Saxe, a revolutionary cognitive neuroscientist from MIT

Frans de Waal, a renowned primatologist from Emory University

Freeman Dyson, distinguished theoretical physicist and mathematician from the Institute for Advanced Study

Jeffrey Sachs, a leading international economic advisor and director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University

Charles Blow, a provocative New York Times editorialist

Steven Neuberg, an experimental social psychologist from ASU

Krauss, who will moderate the Great Debate, said it will be the keystone event to a two- and a half-day workshop that will focus on xenophobia on March 30 to April 1. The latest thinking and research on xenophobia will be discussed and explored during the workshops.

Krauss added that the prices for the Great Debate ($4 plus fees for students; $10 plus fees for the public; and $16 plus fees for VIP seating) were drawn up to encourage wide audience participation in this event.

For more information on these events, visit, or call 480-965-0053.

Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Higher ed presidents say teaching sustainability is good business

March 8, 2012

Achieving carbon neutrality on American college and university campuses is not a matter for science alone. It has to be taught. And, in dealing with budget reductions coupled with enrollment growth, college and university presidents have learned that sustainability is also a good business model.

“We’ve all faced one big dilemma in the past few years,” said David Schmidly, president of the University of New Mexico, noting that UNM experienced budget cuts of about 20-22 percent, while at the same time enrollment increases of 15 percent. Four American college and university presidents Download Full Image

“What we found is sustainability can be useful for teaching not only a paradigm to be a better citizen; we have found that sustainability is good business. It’s a good way to contain cost and save money," he said, adding that UNM's energy conservation program saved more than $8 million over just a few years.

Schmidly made his remarks at Arizona State University during the recent Southwest Regional Collaborative Symposium of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). Nearly 675 American colleges and universities are signatories to a commitment to reduce and eventually neutralize carbon dioxide emissions on their campuses that contribute to global warming as they integrate sustainability into their curriculum.

Schmidly was part of a presidents’ panel at the symposium that focused on how higher education in the Southwest can lead the way to a clean, green and sustainable economy. Other panelists included ASU President Michael Crow; John D. Haeger, president of Northern Arizona University; and Jan Gehler, president of Scottsdale Community College.

“I am a teacher. That’s what I do,” said Crow. Teachers create knowledge, synthesize knowledge and advance knowledge, he said. “But I think more important than that the institutions themselves have to teach.”

Crow explained that Arizona State University became one of the founding members of ACUPCC because it became clear to him after listening to “rancorous political debate” in which “we see people denigrating science” that American colleges and universities had to be involved “not only by what we teach but by what we do.”

He asked: “Is there a way to restructure our own ways in which we consume or use energy, or produce carbon, or don’t produce carbon? And, can we find a way to teach on multiple levels? Can we express it to the institution, in addition to expressing to our students?

“If teachers can’t figure that out, who can? If it is left only to scientists, that’s insufficient. Science is not enough. It has to be taught,” Crow said.

At Scottsdale Community College, part of the 250,000-student Maricopa County Community College District, “sustainability is not just left to the sustainability coordinator,” said President Gehler.

“Whether president, vice president or member of the faculty, we must model the way,” Gehler said. “I think the biggest challenge is the lack of time we have to devote to what appears to be a unique agenda. But it is not this or this, but this and this.”

The challenge for college and university presidents is to make sustainability “an integrative process, where we understand and articulate broadly and often,” she said.

At Northern Arizona University, students “are into these ideas in a big way,” said President Haeger, explaining there is a network on campus that is driving an active agenda, and that one of the things he can do as a leader is “to get out of the way.”

Infusing a sustainability emphasis into the administrative structure – whether it is building green buildings or buying fuel efficient cars – is another way presidents can lead in creating a sustainable economy, Haeger said.

“I think sustainability is a responsibility of teachers to teach,” said UNM’s Schmidly. “It is also the responsibility of the university campus to practice it and be an example that students and people beyond the campus can see as a real world example of how to operate sustainably.”