Harvard To Drop Traditional “House Master” Title As Racially Insensitive

200px-harvard_wreath_logo_1svgHarvard 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

55 thoughts on “Harvard To Drop Traditional “House Master” Title As Racially Insensitive”

  1. And Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach is being discontinued. Stupid racist performing art show. Don’t they know how offensive that name is?

    And the Masters Golf Tournament is obviously banned. Clearly all those white guys in golf pants are racist bigots.

    1. Karen – I love the Pageant of the Masters. Sorry to see it go. Hopefully they will keep the art shows.

  2. And in other news, we are now doing away with “Masters” degrees as racially insensitive.

  3. The Maryland Judiciary recently did the same thing to its Domestic Relations Masters; changing the term to Magistrates. “Master” in this context is simply a common law word for a person who assists the court.

  4. House Sitters seems to be an appropriate name change.

    More like Babysitter. Or Nanny.

    I KNOW….they need Mary Poppins to soothe their itty bitty hurts.

  5. wonderer, I saw the Ohio Wesleyan Prez on TV talking about “this is a college, not daycare.” I wanted to stand up and cheer.

  6. For crying out loud. When is this idiocy going to stop. Master or mastery is not a racist term. Get over yourselves.

    Giving in to these adult toddlers hissy fits and tantrums is not going to do anyone any good. Just STOP.

  7. God in heaven. Did Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana blow a gasket?

    Jonny Rambo was created by a controversy and small town hick Sheriff Boss argues with Army Colonel.

  8. Don’t even ask what’s gonna happen with the word “masturbation” at Harvard.

    Lol! Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

  9. Master, master- where’s those dreams that I’ve been after?
    Master, master- promised only lies.
    Laughter, laughter, all I ever hear is laughter, laughter,
    Laughing at my cries.

    Fix me.

    – Metallica, Master of Puppets

    While their song was about drug use, I think we can cross the analogy to people’s general life choices. Victims are blaming their masters across the board, without the realization they are their own master, and it is their fault.

    They want to tear down the master, they do not want to lift themselves up. They want the master to fix what is wrong, they do not want to become the master of destiny. That’s like, hard work, man.

  10. Has anyone else read the letter from the President of Oklahoma Wesleyan? It’s on their website, don’t have a link handy or I’d post it. Headline is “This is a University, not a daycare.”

  11. And let’s abolish any reference to “cum laude” since it devalues other students. And can be taken as pornographic.

  12. I like DW’s suggestion of “Boss.” I was born and raised in the northeast US. I had never been to the South when I started working @ Leavenworth Penitentiary as a young man. One of my favorite movies of all time is Cool Hand Luke. Newman was robbed not winning an Oscar. You’ll remember, guards were called “Boss” in that flick. It was disturbing to me, when inmates who had served time in the South, would call me “Boss” or “Boss Man.” But, it did serve a good purpose. It made me even more intent on not wanting to be like those guards depicted in that great flick.

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