December 8, 2015

When words have more than one meaning

Sam Smith -  It is interesting and somewhat disheartening to find that as university campuses become more publicly involved in ethnic and gender issues, their bias for proper language and other symbolism over effective action comes to the fore. The most recent example is Harvard's elimination of the term "House Master."  Wrote Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana, "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." On a campus internet conversation site, Rich Rubenstein, a professor at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution rightly notes: "The title 'master' never had anything to do with American slavery (or, for that matter, with Hegel's master-slave relationship).  It was borrowed (along with the "house" idea) from England, where the heads of Oxford and Cambridge colleges were customarily called masters.The problem with this sort of terminological air-brushing is that it de-historicizes and impoverishes language and, as Frank says, distracts us from dealing with real social problems, one of which is virulent racism."   

No comments: