Harvard just dropped an arguably racist title from use on campus

Harvard Students College University Campus YardVia FlickrHarvard University

Harvard University has officially dropped the term “House Master” as a title for faculty who oversee undergraduate dorms, NBC News reported.

Harvard has replaced the term with “faculty deans.” The decision came after news last year that Harvard would no longer use the title, but was unsure of what faculty in the position would be called.

Debate over using the term “House master” has been fierce, with those in opposition to the term claiming it has strong connotations to plantation slavery.

For its part, Harvard did not overtly disparage the title “House master,” instead distancing itself from the argument that the term was racist.

“I want to emphasise that a decision to change does not necessarily mean that what came before was wrong,” Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith said in an email to the Harvard community. “I have not been shown any direct connection between the term House Master and the institution of slavery.”

Still, the tide seems to be turning on the usage of the term “master” across the Ivy League. Last year, Princeton also announced it was changing its title of “master of the residential college” to “head of college.”

At Yale, the title has also been the source of tension, and the Yale Daily News (YDN) called for an end to the title of master at Yale last September.

“When a black student is asked to address an authority figure as ‘master’ — and especially when serving that person, as students do in their capacity as ‘master’s aides’ — the association can be disempowering,” the YDN wrote.

And the master of Yale’s Pierson College, Stephen Davis, wrote an email to Pierson students in August arguing the same point and asking them to no longer call him “Master Davis.”

“I think there should be no context in our society or in our university in which an African-American student, professor or staff member — or any person, for that matter — should be asked to call anyone ‘master,'” Davis wrote to his students, according to YDN. “And there should be no context where male-gendered titles should be normalized as markers of authority.”

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