The university’s equality and diversity unit wrote in a newsletter that not speaking directly to others was a racial “micro-aggression” that could lead to “mental ill health”.
“Sometimes called ‘micro-aggressions’, subtle, everyday racism can appear trivial,” the newsletter read. “But repeated micro-aggressions can be tiring and alienating.”
The guidance has been widely criticised on social media, with many accusing the university of failing to consider people with autism, who often find it difficult to make eye contact.
One woman accused the university of “ableism”, while others wrote:
Shyness and anxiety were also reasons people might avoid eye contact, people noted.
A spokesperson for Oxford University 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 and the newsletter is one way of advising and supporting staff towards achieving these aims.”
The university’s unit also warned against asking people where they are “originally” from and making jokes that draw attention to someone’s difference or nationality.
“Some people who do these things may be entirely well-meaning, and would be mortified to realise that they had caused offence,” it said in the newsletter.
“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.”