Students who avoid making eye contact with their peers could be guilty of racism, according to Oxford University’s latest guidance.
The university’s Equality and Diversity Unit has advised students that “not speaking directly to people” could be deemed a “racial microaggression” which can lead to “mental ill-health”.
Other examples of “everyday racism” include asking someone where they are “originally” from, students were told.
Oxford University's Equality and Diversity Unit explains 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”.
Universities have been accused of pandering to the “snowflake generation” of students, who are seen as over-sensitive and quick to take offence.
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 Sunday 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”.
She said: “Instead of people seeing each other as potential friends, equals, these re-racialise academia, they force people to see each other as a person of colour, they force people to be put into boxes about identity.
“It is really problematic - it means people can’t relate to each other naturally, they have rules in the back of their mind and they can’t be spontaneous as their interactions are all overlaid with the desire to follow all these rules.”
Last year Oxford law students were told they could skip lectures covering violent cases if they feared the content would be too “distressing”.
Earlier this year it emerged that Cardiff Metropolitan University banned phrases such as “right-hand man” and “gentleman’s agreement” under its code of practice on inclusive language.
The university guidance dictates that “gender-neutral” terms should be used where possible, adding that students should not allow their “cultural background” to affect their choice of words.
The University of Glasgow has started issuing “trigger warnings” for theology students studying the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, whereby students are told they may see distressing images and are given the opportunity to leave.
The term "snowflake generation" was one of Collins Dictionary's 2016 words of the year. Collins defines the term as "the young adults of the 2010s, viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations".
An Oxford University spokesman said: “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.”