Over the past two weeks, Harvard and Princeton have decided to stop using the word “master” in their residential college housing systems.
On Tuesday, Harvard College dean Rakesh Khurana sent an email to all Harvard students announcing that undergraduate residential “house masters” had unanimously expressed a desire to change their title in response to complaints the word carries unwanted connotations of slavery, according to The Harvard Crimson.
“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.”
Khurana didn’t say what title will replace master.
The title “master” for the heads of Harvard’s 12 residential houses is borrowed from the British universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but recently the term is being assailed by student activists who believe it evokes slavery and is therefore offensive to black students.
Despite the debate on racism, in actuality, the connection between college masters and slave masters is non-existent, other than the use of the same word, The Daily Caller reports. “Master” is derived from Latin and medieval French, and it has been used in an academic context since the 1300s, before the development of trans-Atlantic slavery.
The Harvard announcement comes less than two weeks after Princeton University announced it would immediately change the title of “master of the residential college” to “head of college.” The title is still in use at Yale for now.
Additionally, Harvard’s decision comes just a few days after it announced it’s also considering changing Harvard Law School’s over 150-year-old seal, which is modeled on the family crest of the Royall family, who endowed Harvard’s first law professorship. Students want the seal changed because the Royall family owned slaves.