University students warned '˜looking away could be racist'

Students at Oxford University have been warned that failing to look another student in the eye could be perceived as racist behaviour.

Oxford University, where students have been issues strict guidelines in a bid to avoid racist behaviour. Picture: Pixabay
Oxford University, where students have been issues strict guidelines in a bid to avoid racist behaviour. Picture: Pixabay

Undergraduates at the institution have also been told that joking about someone’s accent may be racist, along with warnings not to ask black or ethnic minority students where they are ‘originally’ from.

The guidelines have apparently been included in a list of ‘micro-aggressions’ circulated by Oxford University’s equality and diversity unit in its Trinity term newsletter.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Opponents have branded the instructions patronising, and suggested they were authoritarian for attempting to tell students how to interact.

The newsletter read: “Sometimes called ‘micro-aggressions’, subtle everyday racism can appear trivial.

“But repeated micro-aggressions can be tiring and alienating (and can lead to mental ill health).

“Racial micro-aggressions might include not making eye contract or speaking directly to people; not believing someone is British (‘Where are you from? No, I mean originally...’); ‘jokes’ drawing attention to someone’s difference, their accent or nationality.”

The newsletter stressed that it was working to address the issues by raising awareness of what it called ‘this type of subtle racism’ as part of its training for university employees.

“Some people who do these things may be entirely well-meaning and would be mortified to realise that they had caused offence,” the newsletter continues.

“But this is of little consequence if a possible effect of their words or actions is to suggest to people that they may fulfil a negative stereotype, or don’t belong.”

But critics have described it as ‘ridiculous,’ with some branding it ‘not only deeply authoritarian’ but also ‘chilling’.

Dr Joanna Williams, a lecturer in higher education at the University of Kent, told The Telegraph: “Essentially people are being accused of a thought crime.

“They are being accused of thinking incorrect thoughts based on an assumption of where they may or may not be looking.”

In Scotland, the University of Glasgow now issues ‘trigger warnings’ for thelogy students studying Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, informing students that they may see distressing images and giving them an opportunity to leave.

A spokeswoman for the University told The Times: “The equality and diversity unit works with university bodies to ensure that the university’s pursuit of excellence goes hand in hand with freedom from discrimination and equality of opportunity and the newsletter is one way of advising and supporting staff towards achieving these aims.”