In attempting to avoid microaggressions, Oxford University stumbled into one.
Last week, Oxford’s Equality and Diversity Unit disseminated a newsletter highlighting unintentional but supposedly racist behaviors that it claimed could make people feel like they “do not belong” and cause “mental ill-health.” Among the microaggressions listed: Avoiding eye contact.
But on Twitter, several people noted that this directive was insensitive to people with autism.
According to the organization Autism Speaks, some autistic people find “the act of making eye contact extremely stressful,” while others say it makes them “further distracted and unable to focus on the conversation.”
A chastened Oxford rushed to apologize, backtracking on its microaggression guidelines.
“We are sorry that we took no account of other reasons for difference in eye contact and social interaction, including disability,” the university said in a series of Tweets. “We made a mistake. Our newsletter was too brief to deal adequately and sensibly with the issue. … Oxford deeply values and works hard to support students and staff with disabilities, including those with autism or social anxiety disorder.”
Congratulations, Oxford. You’re low on sensitivity but high on irony.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.