Avoiding eye contact and asking someone where they’re originally from ‘might be’ racist, according to Oxford University

The university says it is ‘subtle everyday racism’

In a newsletter sent by Oxford University, avoiding direct eye contact or speaking directly to people is a form of “subtle everyday racism”.

In the Trinity term newsletter sent yesterday, the Equality and Diversity Unit stated these could be forms of “micro-aggressions” and lead to “mental-ill health”.

It also said asking someone where they were originally from was a form of racism, as it suggested the person was not from Britain. The newsletter acknowledged that although these actions may be well intended, they can cause alienation in those affected in thinking they “do not belong”.

Under the header of ‘Everyday racism’, 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 an eye contact 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.”

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.”

Other universities in the UK have recently published new inclusivity guidelines. In February, Cardiff Metropolitan University published guidelines against using gendered language such as “sportsman” and “man-made” in their latest Code of Practice on Inclusive Language to make “all students and staff feel valued”.

Last December, Sussex University similarly enforced a gender neutral language policy, promoting gender neutral pronouns to be used when a person’s gender was not known.