Oxford University bans loud clapping in favor of jazz hands

Oxford University bans loud clapping in favor of jazz hands

It is not difficult these days to come across a story about how institutions of higher learning are coddling their students. Today’s college students are apparently too delicate even to handle a very normal expression of approval – clapping. So, true to form, there must be a ban issued against clapping. I wish I was kidding.

The oldest university in the English-speaking world, the University of Oxford, a collegiate research university in Oxford, England, is believed to have been founded in 1096. I can’t imagine what the first students of the university would think of today’s students. Not only is clapping discouraged by the Student Council, but cheering is also to be stopped. What is being substituted for clapping and cheering, you might ask? Silent jazz hands. It’s jazz hand clapping.

The first student council meeting of the academic year passed a motion to mandate the Sabbatical Officers to encourage the use of British Sign Language (BSL) clapping, otherwise known as ‘silent jazz hands’ at Student Council meetings and other official SU events. For now, it only pertains to the Student Council meetings but lobbying will begin to make the mandate for all university and college-level events.

BSL clapping is used by the National Union of Students since loud noises, including whooping and traditional applause, are argued to present an access issue for some disabled students who have anxiety disorders, sensory sensitivity, and/or those who use hearing impairment aids.

The proposers pointed out that alternatives to traditional clapping have been in place to aid accessibility in some organisations since 2015, when The New York Times for instance declared snapping is the new clapping.

Manchester Students Union made headlines when they led the way in passing a motion in September 2018 to use BSL clapping at their own student council.

As well as mandating the Sabbatical Officers to encourage the use of jazz hands at Student Council, the motion also mandates Sabbatical Officers to ‘lobby the University’ to use jazz hands in place of applause at University and college level events, with an explanation of why the change is important.

Sign language is used all the time in gatherings to be inclusive of the hearing impaired. Sign language, though, is in addition to verbal communication. In this case, Oxford is banning the noise emitted from normal applause or cheering in order to avoid triggering students sensitive to that noise to the exclusion of hearing students. Celebrity Piers Morgan noted that the use of jazz hands may even be considered racist.

Another question presents itself – will an entire audience or group of people waving their hands in the air trigger people with other anxieties? This all can become a slippery slope, can’t it? Soon no one will be allowed to do anything but sit silently. It just looks like another gesture made for the youngest generation that wasn’t even considered necessary in the past. Student union officer Róisín McCallion said it’s all about inclusivity.

A former student of the university also saw the choice as a bit silly, if well-intentioned. “Oxford University Student Union is always seeking to be more accommodating for students. Especially for those with accessibility issues,” the former student said. “But this idea will not work and is completely ludicrous.”

McCallion defended the decision as reflective of the Student Union’s system of values. “The policy was proposed in order to encourage the use of British Sign Language clapping during our democratic events to make those events more accessible and inclusive for all, including people who suffer from anxiety,” she said in a statement. “Inclusivity is one of the Students’ Union’s founding principles.”

I assume the majority of college students are not overly challenged by sensory sensitivity. The question is if this is something that will spread to larger events on campus. Student Union meetings are one thing. Let’s be honest, campus-wide events are rowdy and loud. It just goes with the territory. College days are to prepare students for the real world. This kind of protection of sensitive young adults can be seen as admirable but it is wholly unrealistic in the real world.

Addendum (Ed): What about spirit fingers? These are spirit fingers!

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