From Daily Mail: Avoiding making eye contact with someone or asking where they are originally from have been deemed as racist micro-aggressions in a newsletter issued by Oxford University. The institution’s Equality and Diversity Unit states these two common behaviours could potentially cause the listener ‘mental ill-health’.
The Trinity term newsletter claims asking someone where they are ‘originally’ from implies that the questioner does not believe they are British. The Trinity term newsletter also mentions ‘not speaking directly to people’ and ‘jokes drawing attention to someone’s difference’ as possible forms of everyday racism.
It says people doing these things are often ‘well-meaning’, but insists they are still reinforcing negative stereotypes and making people feel like they ‘do not belong’.
But Professor Frank Furedi, author of What’s Happened To The University, said the advice was ‘Orwellian’ and called on Oxford to ‘wake up to reality’. He told MailOnline: ‘To go from simply stating someone is racist based on what they say to assume they are unconsciously racist is a very Orwellian turn. Microaggressions empower the accuser to say that it doesn’t matter what you intend by that look, I just know by the look of your eyes you are racist.
‘It is a very insidious way of thinking. Universities used to understand the reality that humans are complex. It would be nice if Oxford could wake up to reality.’
Oxford University said the advice was part of an attempt to fight discrimination and encourage equality of opportunity. Students at the university recently took part in a campaign called ‘I, too, am Oxford’, to raise awareness of unconscious racism.
At one college, Pembroke, students are advised by their representatives to report ‘macro and microaggressions’ to a welfare officer. She will then deal with the issue by ‘mediation with the other party’ or ‘through the harassment policy’.
Professor Furedi said giving advice on avoiding microaggressions happens at ‘virtually every’ university in the USA, but is fairly new to the UK. The Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Kent University urged British students to resist the trend, adding: ‘A minority of students make it their own cause. ‘But there are usually a lot of people who think it is stupid but they acquiesce to it and eventually the influence of these ideas becomes more prominent.’
An Oxford University spokesman told MailOnline: ‘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.
‘The newsletter is one way of advising and supporting staff towards achieving these aims.’
The row comes two months after a Cambridge college was accused of ‘cultural misrepresentation’ by students after serving ‘Jamaican stew’ and ‘Tunisian rice’. Students argued the dishes served at Pembroke College were not authentic to countries they were described to be from, The Sunday Times reported.
The original complainant said: ‘I’m used to as a minority student being constantly invalidated when flagging up specific issues but if people feel their cultures are misrepresented they have the right to address this. Micro-aggressions are a reality of the everyday existence of many people of colour.’