University under fire for “Orwellian” guidance report

The University have since apologised for their "mistake" in claiming that avoiding eye-contact may be a sign of racism

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Oxford University has faced criticism for a Trinity term newsletter published by the Equality and Diversity Unit, which warned against racist micro-aggressions.

According to the report, this “subtle, everyday racism can appear trivial. But repeated micro-aggressions can be tiring and alienating”.

The piece, entitled ‘Everyday Racism’, went on to say that racial micro-aggressions may include not making eye contact or speaking directly to people, as well as “not believing someone is British” by making jokes or drawing attention to their accent.

Dr. Joanna Williams, a lecturer in higher education at the University of Kent, said the guidance was “completely ridiculous”.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Dr. Williams said: “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.”

The Daily Mail gave the story a provocative headline: “Avoiding making eye contact or asking where someone is from are signs of RACISM says Oxford University in new snowflake row”.

The article included comments from Professor Frank Furedi, who said the advice was “Orwellian” and urged Oxford to “wake up to reality”.

He added: “To go from simply stating someone is racist based on what they say to assume they are unconsciously racist is a very Orwellian turn. Micro-aggressions 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.”

Femi Nylander, a campaigner with Rhodes Must Fall, reacted to the coverage from the newspapers: “We have become used to seeing reactionary articles from these publications, which decry the genuine grievances of minority students as simply the cries of a snowflake generation.”

Nylander’s criticism comes after Balliol College’s University Challenge team decided to “ethically boycott” the Daily Mail.

An Oxford University spokesman told Cherwell: “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.

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However, the University have recently apologised for the newsletter.

In a series of tweets, the University replied to criticism: “We made a mistake. Our newsletter was too brief to deal adequately and sensibly with the issue.

“We are sorry that we took no account of other reasons for difference in eye contact and social interaction, including disability.

“Oxford deeply values and works hard to support students and staff with disabilities, including those with autism or social anxiety disorder.”