Ivy League’s ‘Master’ Title Racist To Black Students? Yale May Copy Harvard, Princeton Professors Over Slavery Concerns

Is the Ivy League’s “master” title racist? Both Harvard University and Princeton University will now no longer refer to their professors as “master,” and it’s possible Yale may follow suit. Some have argued that the title is “disempowering” to black students, claiming that it refers back to slavery and plantation slaves, so Yale President Peter Salovey says the university is expected to make a decision on the matter before the summer.

In a related report by the Inquisitr, in the middle of November hundreds of Yale students at the prestigious Ivy League school demonstrated against racial insensitivity at the school. The focus was on incidents where a frat party allegedly was looking for “white girls only,” and Halloween costumes were criticized for using blackface and turbans.

The portraits of black Harvard professors were also defaced in recent times.

Vandalism
Black professor portrait defaced, white professors untouched. (Photo by Michele Hall)

These types of controversies have extended into other matters in recent months, including how school administrators should be referred to. The history of the Ivy League’s “master” title actually finds its roots in the universities of medieval Europe, not in the days of American slavery or the plantation fields. But some of the leaders within Harvard, Princeton, and Yale believe that updating the title is necessary in order to promote inclusiveness on campus.

In practice, a “master” at an Ivy League school serve as advisers and oversee social academic programs. Some in the university faculty prefer to be called by their first names, but Princeton University announced in November that masters would receive a name change.

“We believe that calling them ‘head of college’ better captures the spirit of their work and their contributions to campus residential life,” Princeton Dean Jill Dolan said, according to the Associated Press.

Last week, Harvard University joined the push to drop the Ivy League’s “master” title, although they have yet to choose a replacement name for “house master.”

“The desire to change this title has taken place over time and has been a thoughtful one, rooted in a broad effort to ensure that the college’s rhetoric, expectations, and practices around our historically unique roles reflects and serves the 21st century needs of residential student life,” Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana said. “The house masters feel confident that a change in title at this point in time makes sense on very many levels.”

yale university halloween Yale University is embroiled in a Halloween costume crisis. [Photo by Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images]At Yale, the “master” title continues to be used but President Salovey has already created a new center for race and ethnicity. In addition, he announced the creation of new faculty positions specifically dedicated to representing the history and culture of minorities.

The master of Pierson College, Stephen Davis, argues that students should no longer call him “Master Davis,” adding that the term is even biased toward men.

“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 said. “And there should be no context where male-gendered titles should be normalized as markers of authority.”

The Yale Daily News argues that no one can undo the Ivy League’s “master” title’s “association with slavery.” They believe multiple terms should be retired, including “master’s house, master’s office, master’s aide, master’s tea,” and anything that is not considered “ethical and inclusive.” It is claimed that if a Yale “black student is asked to address an authority figure as master… the association can be disempowering.”

As a substitute for master, the Yale Daily News suggested replacements such as principal, president, magister, and director. Yale President Salovey said he, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and the Council of Masters have discussed changing the title of master, although it is uncertain when this change may take place.

“I am confident that Yale will come to a decision about the title ‘master’ in a reasonable amount of time,” Salovey said. “The recent decisions at Princeton and Harvard represent information that is useful for our discussions.”

[Image via Shutterstock/f11photo]