Now saying genius or brilliant ‘can alienate female students’

Now saying genius or brilliant ‘can alienate female students’, by Sarah Harris.

Cambridge academics are being discouraged from using terms such as genius, brilliant or flair in feedback for fear of alienating female students.

It is one of a series of moves lecturers say will help women – including changing exams and even removing portraits of men from the library.

Dr Lucy Delap, lecturer in modern British history, said ‘vague talk of genius, brilliance [and] flair carries assumptions of gender inequality’. She said some women ‘don’t find it very easy to project themselves into those categories’.

Some female students suffered ‘imposter syndrome’ – where they feel they don’t belong – in a ‘male-dominated’ environment, said the academic. Dr Delap revealed exams were being overhauled in a bid to tackle a ‘gender differential’ which sees women outshone.

This could mean more coursework, take-home exams, group work or a portfolio of essays.

It follows Oxford University’s decision to allow students to take a history exam home in the next academic year, in order to help more women get top results.

Reading lists are being reassessed to include more female historians, and there are plans to replace some portraits of men with women in the library.

Discussing the ‘male-dominated environment’ at Oxbridge, Dr Delap, deputy director of history and policy at Cambridge University, told Radio Four’s Today programme: ‘If you look at just something as simple as the art on the walls of a college, they’re often by men and they depict men and often they’re white men as well.’

Merit and competence are so yesterday. Maybe maths can be softened, with exam questions like “how does the number three feel, always being less than four?”, or “which shape is less unhip, a triangle or a square?”.