Harvard University has long followed the ancient tradition of British schools in naming “Masters” for undergraduate residential houses. These are senior faculty members who serve as the chief administrative officers for each of the houses. The school has announced that that long-standing term will be dropped as racially insensitive for African American students, even though it has nothing to do with slavery or racism.
The term “master” was originally derived from words like “schoolmaster” and “headmaster” and have long been a tradition at such esteemed institutions as Oxford and Cambridge. Nevertheless, students and faculty have objected to possible connotations of racism and slavery.
Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana announced in an email that the title will be trashed:
“I write on behalf of myself and my fellow residential House leaders to let you know that the House Masters have unanimously expressed desire to change their title. In the coming weeks, the College will launch a process in which members of the House leaders’ docket committee, working with senior College team members and the House leadership community as a whole, will suggest a new title that reflects the current realities of the role.”
Notably Khurana’s bio still lists his service as “co-Master” of Cabot House. Khurana told the the school newspaper that he has “not felt comfortable personally with the title.”
I can understand that some students might be concerned about the term when they first arrive at Harvard. However, since the term is not connected historically to slavery, it would seem like a case could be made for the preservation of the tradition through better understanding of its meaning and origins. The concern is that traditional terms or titles will be set aside despite their misinterpretation by some students or faculty. I can honestly understand the negative connotation raised by the title “House Master.” Indeed, this may be the ultimate decision for the majority of the students, faculty and staff of Harvard. A case can certainly be made that, despite its non-racist origins, it is now a term associated with racial supremacy. Yet, it would seem worthy of a greater public debate on how to handle historically non-racist terms that are interpreted as offensive on a contemporary basis.
What do you think?
Source: Washington Post