Calling a student a “genius” is a form of discrimination, according to one history lecturer at the University of Cambridge in England.
Lucy Delap, an academic specializing in British history at the high-profile institution, warned examiners against using descriptors like “genius,” “flair,” and “brilliance” when assessing students’ work because such terms are historically associated with men and, therefore, can be offensive, the Independent reported.
“Some of those words, in particular genius, have a very long intellectual history where it has long been associated with qualities culturally assumed to be male,” Delap told The Telegraph. “Some women are fine with that, but others might find it hard to see themselves in those categories.”
She noted that such language carries “assumptions of gender inequality.”
Delap went on to say men are more inclined to earn degrees from places like Cambridge and the University of Oxford because many female students struggle with the “male-dominated environment,” pointing toward a reading list that shows a dearth of women authors.
The Cambridge lecturer’s instruction comes on the heels of a dustup at Oxford. On Monday, the university’s history faculty was accused of sexism after professors announced it would allow students to take one exam from home.
Starting in the fall, history students will be permitted to replace one of their five final-year exams with a “take-home” paper. The move is intended to boost results from female students, who are statistically less likely than their male counterparts to earn a first-class degree from the top-ranking school.
The idea, as well-intentioned as it may have been, was immediately scrutinized.
Amanda Foreman, an honorary research senior fellow in history at the University of Liverpool, said the decision risks implying that women are the “weaker sex.”
“The reason why girls and boys perform differently in exams has nothing to do with the building they are in,” Foreman told The Telegraph. “I think it is extremely well intentioned and I applaud them for taking the matter seriously. But it is so insulting.”
“You are saying that the girls can’t take the stress of sitting in the exam room, which does raise one’s anxiety levels,” she continued. “I don’t think girls are inherently weaker than boys and can’t take it. Women are not the weaker sex.”
A spokesperson for Oxford defended the university’s decision, noting the decision was not based solely on female test results.
“Timed exams remain an important part of the course, testing skills to complement the other assessed elements,” he said, according to the Independent. “This change is part of a broader goal of diversifying the history course in response to a number of factors, including the need to test a greater range of academic skills.”