Stephen Davis, a religious studies professor, is the head of Yale’s Pierson College. Davis is officially referred to as the “Master of Pierson College”, but says he no longer wants to be referred to as “master” due to the baggage the word carries.
“I have found the title of the office I hold deeply problematic given the racial and gendered weight it carries,” Davis said. “Ithink 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’”, he added, according to the Yale Daily News. “And there should be no context where male-gendered titles should be normalized as markers of authority.”
From now on, Davis wants students to refer to him as “doctor” or “professor.”
Yale refers to the heads of its residential colleges as masters, but Davis says the phrase “undercuts our common effort to cultivate a spirit of welcome and hospitality.”
According to Davis, language matters, and it can invite or ostracize depending on how it’s used.
“I have heard stories and witnessed situations involving members of our community who have felt viscerally marginalized by this linguistic practice: students who have felt it necessary to move off campus their junior or senior year to avoid a system where the title ‘master’ is valorized; faculty members who cringe at this aspect of our college culture; tea guests who perform subtle and dexterous verbal gymnastics to avoid having to say the name,” Davis explained.
Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway explained that he is fine with the decision Davis has made and encourages the conversation.
“[Davis’s] reading of the title is more literal and focused on our national narrative and naming practices than mine — I see it as nothing more than a legacy of the British Oxbridge system that Yale was blatantly trying to emulate when it created the residential college system in the early 1930s,” Holloway said. “But the difference of opinion is okay with me. In fact, I think it will be healthy to have a conversation on the issue.”