Oxford University has apologised for suggesting that students who avoid eye contact could be guilty of racism, after it was accused of discriminating against autistic people.
The university’s Equality and Diversity Unit has advised students in their Trinity term newsletter that it could be deemed a “racial microaggression” which can lead to “mental ill-health”.
Other examples of “everyday racism” include “not speaking directly to people” and asking someone where they are “originally” from, students were told.
But the university has now distanced itself from the guidance, and issued an apology after it was criticised for being “insensitive” to autistic people who struggle to make eye contact.
David M. Davis wrote on Twitter: "This is just discrimination against autistic people. One sign of autism is avoiding eye contact. How dare Oxford be so insensitive."
In a series of messages on the social media site, the university replied: "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."
@SSG_Davis_Ret We made a mistake. Our newsletter was too brief to deal adequately and sensibly with the issue.— Oxford University (@UniofOxford) 27 April 2017
Oxford University's Equality and Diversity Unit explained in its Trinity term newsletter that "some people who do these things may be entirely well-meaning, and would be mortified to realise that they had caused offence.
“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 do not belong”.
Dr Joanna Williams, a lecturer in higher education the University of Kent, said the guidance was “completely ridiculous” and will make students “hyper-sensitive” about how they interact with one another.
“Essentially people are being accused of a thought crime,” Dr Williams told The Telegraph. “They are being accused of thinking incorrect thoughts based on an assumption of where they may or may not be looking.”
Dr Williams, who is author of Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity, said that Oxford University’s guidance was “overstepping the mark” by telling students “how they should feel and think”.