Students described how white, male students talked over them in class. Picture: istock.
Students described how white, male students talked over them in class. Picture: istock

“Privileged” male students have been told to be more like women by curbing their confidence and refraining from dominating or showing off during classes, following workshops run by the University of Melbourne Student Union.

Men should also acknowledge that being born male and white affords them certain privileges and reconsider the use of “Australian banter” during tutorials because of the risks of excluding students from other cultural backgrounds.

Following recent workshops on “how privilege manifests itself in tutorials”, recommendations were given to university staff last week.

A report from the sessions, tabled with the union’s student council, reveals female and coloured students complaints about “gaslighting” — a term commonly used to describe how victims of domestic violence are manipulated by perpetrators — describing how white, male students talk over them in class, “making us question whether we know anything”.

“Ways for men not to dominate tutorials: acknowledging the race and gender problem in order to fix it,” the report says. “Questioning yourself, when you want to speak in a tutorial, as to why you want to speak. Is it to self-aggrandise or to learn and contribute.”

The report also advises female students against the tendency of some women to cushion opinions with qualifying statements like “this is probably stupid but …”.

“Women should stop second-guessing their intelligence,” it says.

“But men should learn how to speak like women (and) not speak with absolute confidence when they are in fact not sure or expressing an opinion.”

The workshops were well-­attended, according to the report, but the concept has raised concern about freedom of expression and thought in one of the country’s most prestigious educational institutions.

It follows February reports that new University of Western Australia students were handed a 29-point “male privilege checklist” during orientation week, which detailed perceived male advantages over females in careers, sexuality, personal safety, child rearing, and even clothing.

Critics claim these are signs that local universities are headed the way of US campuses, where extreme political correctness has spawned a so-called “snowflake generation” — young adults prone to taking offence and flinching from views that challenge theirs.

The Institute of Public Affairs’ director of foundations of Western civilisation, Bella d’Abrera, said the workshops perpetuated the “white male privilege myth” of identity politics, which claims that biology, race and gender determine destiny.

“By asking men to tone down ‘Australian banter’ and to ‘speak like women’, the (student union) is simultaneously discriminating against men and patronising women,” Dr d’Abrera said. “The workshops are a direct assault on masculinity and are designed to make men feel ashamed of being men.”

Centre for Independent Studies policy director Jeremy Sammut said universities should be places that encouraged freedom of thought and ideas. “Instead of students focusing on their courses and developing their minds, they’re being told to not only watch what they say but how they say it,” he said. “If these students can’t handle the exchange of differing views, how will they ever go on to become a CEO or the prime minister of the country?”

The student union did not respond to requests for comment.