Saturday, December 19, 2015

Welcome home, dear son / daughter / whatever


Harvard's Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion created this "placemat" to arm students for that dreaded Christmas (Hannukah / Kwanzaa / whatever) dinner with the folks. What if Uncle Bob were to ask why colleges are abolishing the title of "master" to refer to the, um, person who presides over a housing unit? The student is instructed to reply:
“For some, the term master, used to describe stewardship of a group of people (such as a house), is reminiscent of slave masters and the legacy of slavery. The title, ‘House Master,’ is no longer actively associated with its historical antecedents nor is it used to address House Masters. Given the name is offensive to groups of people, it doesn’t seem onerous to change it. The mastery of a subject is an understandable use of the word. However, within our cultural and historical context, implying mastery of people feels both inappropriate and ill-founded.”
In the end, the administration apologized in a letter to students: "the placemat distributed in some of your dining halls this week failed to account for the many viewpoints that exist on our campus on some of the most complex issues we confront as a community and society today." If the title of house master is one of the most complex issues confronting Ivy League colleges, where an education runs $60,000 a year for those who actually pay retail price, the term Ivory Tower has never been so apt.

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