Did Texas Students Leave Class Over an Evolutionary Fact?

Texas State University has disputed claims that students walked out of a lecture after hearing that humanity descended from Africa.

Published Oct 21, 2016

On 18 October 2016, a Texas State University student identified as A’marion James tweeted an image depicting what he called a student walkout during an anthropology class because the professor said "all living people are descendants from Africa":

The photograph was featured as part of a report on the incident from The Tab web site, which stated:

The lecture started out with a message from the professor that the day’s class would be a lesson on race and it would be particularly interesting so everyone should listen, said Justine Lundy, 20. The professor began talking about the Black Lives Matter movement and how it had come about before stating that all living beings descended from east Africa.

“It was dead silent,” Lundy said, before a student retorted with a “sarcastic ‘sure.'”

The piece also quoted a 19-year-old student identified as Karene Taylor who said, "A lot of people left. It was embarrassing."

Lundy told on 21 October 2016 that she never spoke with anyone from The Tab. However, she did share the same recollection with KTBC-TV:

There was one guy who was like 'Sure like of course we're from Africa' sarcastically. You can't be closed minded in a class like that These conversations need to be had and people are going to be uncomfortable with it.

She told snopes that she saw three people leave the class that night. She also expressed surprise that it received so much attention online:

I don't really think it needed to. I'm honestly kind of tired of talking about it. If you don't agree with it then fine that you're personal opinion but what are you proving by walking out because of what he's teaching?

And the professor brought it up the next class. [He said] he doesn't mind people having their personal opinions of subjects in class but if you really believe what he said was a lie then you can talk and discuss it and have proof to back it up.

A university spokesperson could not confirm whether Taylor was enrolled in the class, which is taught by professor Jon McGee. The university did share a statement from McGee disputing that any such walkout from his class had occurred:

This is an introductory cultural anthropology class of 390 students. The topic of the day was concepts of race, and I mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement as an example of how race is an important issue in the U.S. But the main point of the discussion was the evidence for modern human origins in Africa based on mitochondrial DNA analysis. I did not see a large-scale walkout of students, I did not hear any chants of "Black Lives Matter" and there was no further class-wide discussion of the topic. In fact, no students approached me after class to talk about this. With 390 students it is possible that someone did not like the topic and walked out, but with that size class it is common for students to walk in and out of class and I do not question their reasons for doing so. Consequently, I have no basis on which to determine a student's reasons for leaving class.

McGee did corroborate portions of Lundy's account via email on 24 October 2016, saying that he heard "a loud, drawn-out 'sure'" during the lecture but was not able to identify the student who said it. He also said that he told the class during the lecture following the alleged walkout that the classroom should be considered a "safe space" for controversial discussions:

I told them that everyone had the right to their opinion, that I did not believe that everyone had to agree with me, but that I expected everyone to treat each other with respect. I told them that I did not just make things up. I said that I had evidence for everything I said in class and if someone disagrees then they could make a counter argument, but they needed to back it up with their own evidence from reliable sources.

James' picture is the only one thus far to emerge from the alleged walkout. He has not responded to a request for comment from, but he did provide a statement to the Austin-American Statesman that suggested he was guessing about the reason for the purported walkout:

Our professor made a statement that All Lives Matter isn’t as important as Black Lives Matter because black lives are being taken the most. Then he said that we were all descendants from Africa, and about five students walked out. [I’m] not sure if that was the reason, but right after he made the statement they got up and left and I could see anger in some of the students.

Arturo Garcia is a former writer for Snopes.

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