Updated: Aug. 15, 9:39 a.m.

Stephen Davis, a religious studies professor who has led Pierson College since July 2013, has asked that students cease calling him “master.”

In a Friday email to the Pierson community, Davis cited “deeply problematic” racial and gender hierarchies associated with the title, which has been affixed to leaders of the residential colleges from their inception in the 1930s. Since then, the colleges have grown in number, set to expand from 12 to 14 in 2017, and have become a hallmark of undergraduate life at Yale.

They have also sparked considerable debate. Davis’s request comes in the context of renewed campus dialogue about racially charged names and symbols — notably Calhoun College, which is named for the segregationist John C. Calhoun, class of 1804.

Davis asked members of the Pierson community to address him as “doctor” or “professor,” and to refer to his administrative role as “head of college.”

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

In his email, Davis said there have been instances when the title has made students, faculty and guests uncomfortable. Calling the leaders of residential colleges “masters,” he said, “undercuts our common effort to cultivate a spirit of welcome and hospitality.”

The change in terminology will extend beyond Davis and his wife, Jenny Davis, who has previously been referred to as an “associate master.” Davis said he and his staff will begin calling his student employees “Pierson Aides” instead of “Master’s Aides,” and “Master’s Teas” will now be known as “Pierson Teas.”

Davis acknowledged that he could not change the use of the word “master” outside of his own college, but added that he would advocate for others to embrace the change. He asked for students’ help in engaging in this conversation.

Many students appear eager to do so. After the email was posted on the popular Facebook group “Overheard at Yale” Friday afternoon, dozens of commenters voiced their approval of Davis’s decision. Among them was Trumbull College Master Margaret Clark, who wrote that she is “in complete agreement with Steve Davis on this.”

Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, who has previously served as master of Calhoun College, said the title always struck him as “a strange piece of karma” given his race, his academic focus on African-American history and his leadership in Calhoun, but he “never worried about the title beyond that.” He surmised, however, that many others will certainly share Davis’s view of the title.

“[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 in an email shortly after the announcement. “But the difference of opinion is okay with me. In fact, I think it will be healthy to have a conversation on the issue.”

Most other colleges’ masters were not immediately available for comment.

Davis’s announcement comes just weeks after students circulated a petition calling for a change of the name of Calhoun College. The document garnered nearly 1,500 signatures.

For some on campus, Davis’s decision is an extension of that debate. Abdul-Razak Zachariah ’17 said the conversation about Calhoun may have made students question other traditions and titles on campus.

I honestly don’t know how much a sweeping change of using the term ‘master’ could lead into a change of the name ‘Calhoun,’” Zachariah said. “But I know that if students see this initial change through until its total success, then the possibility of eliminating Calhoun’s name will increase exponentially.”

  • BR16

    100% a great move by Davis. I’m sure there will be much squawking from the right of the YPU about political correctness but the sexist and racist overtones are fairly clear and even though I’ve never been personally offended, if even one person is that’s a good enough reason for me to change it. Major kudos to Dr. Davis for having the guts to implement this change as a relatively new “head of college.” I hope others follow his lead.

    • ShadrachSmith

      By what right do you change the names of things?
      Who made you Pope?

      • BR16

        Davis runs the college. He gets to decide what he should be called. I’m not attempting to dictate University policy–just saying I think he made the right choice.

        Although GOD FORBID we change things that hurt or offend people because FREE SPEECH GIVES ME THE RIGHT TO HURT WHOEVER I WANT, right? smdh

        • Martin Adamson

          “Davis runs the college.” As clear an indication of the power-worshipping totalitarian mindset of the contemporary left as you could wish to find. Prof Davis does not run the College – he is merely the temporary custodian of it.

          • ShadrachSmith

            Your answer is better than mine.

        • InTheShelter

          Actually that is what free speech protects. Unpopular speech. He can say whatever he wants, but people are going to point out how ridiculous it is. If we all have to adhere to the idea that no one can be offended or hurt then we can only have one person on this planet, otherwise someone will be hurt or offended the moment there are two or more. These people need to grow up.

        • Mary Ann

          It’s absolutely incredible that ANY American would think that the freedom of speech only includes speech that does not hurt others. Free speech means EXACTLY THAT: The right to say ANYTHING you like unless restricted by law that is the minimally restrictive necessary to advance a compelling state interest (among other restrictions on such a law).

    • Martin Adamson

      Far from it. He comes across as an arrogant, self-righteous twerp. What gives Prof. Davis the right to imply that he alone is wiser, more caring and more sensitive than all his forebears in that particular office?

    • ms2676

      What a nice liberal world you live in. What’s going to happen when Davis leaves? His replacement could very well want to go back to being called Master. I had no problem with the title when I was a student in 1996.

    • 15gladyskravitz

      Then time to give back his MASTER’S degree too. I guess he “Davised” his subject.

  • peconic1960

    Oh, my God. How unbelievably lame. Speaking as a Pierson grad, I am profoundly embarrassed. Seriously, who the hell was offended? Further, being the “master” of a college has nothing to do with slavery. Nothing. It is an etymological coincidence. And as for you, BR16, and your statement that if “even one person is offended” that’s reason to change. Really? That’s your standard? Every time someone, somewhere, is offended, changes must be made? That’s patently ridiculous. The world is not an “offense free zone,” even as you try to make Yale such. I weep at your fragility and fear for your ability to make it in the real world.

    • bellhooksianUrges

      When, in “the real world,” have you ever been asked to call someone master? If you’ve simply succumbed to the constructions of the world around you, and condemn BR16 for not doing the same, then I weep for you. Not all alumni are taught equally: I think you should return to Yale and drop in on a class in wgss, sociology or linguistics to study power dynamics, language change, and structure v agency. Davis should be lauded for his bravery in making a decision against the grain, given the modern connotation of the word – which ALSO existed when it was first instituted, it’s worth noting.

      • ShadrachSmith

        I invite your response to one of my comments 🙂

      • peconic1960

        “Power dynamics, language change, and structure vs agency…” Do you listen to yourself? What a rhetorical pantload. Do you actually study anything useful inside the bubble, or is it all victimization and identity politics? As for Davis being brave, it’s the exact opposite. Given the prevailing environment, he is merely the first lemming. The brave one will be the master that resists.

        • ldffly

          It doesn’t have to be useful, just something with the mere patina of truth. The postmodernist/deconstructionist clichés don’t meet that standard.

      • 15gladyskravitz

        He did not go against any “grain”. Yale is a bastion of liberality and PC language is right with the ol’ liberal “grain.”

    • BR16

      When things offend or hurt people or make them uncomfortable, we have three options. The first is to censor and ban such things outright. The second is to ignore them and expect the offended party to “toughen up.” The third is to consider why people were offended, consider if changing the language is reasonable, and do so. Davis chose (and I am advocating) the third, middle course.

      In other words, no, I don’t believe that “changes must be made” every time someone is offended. But if someone is deeply troubled by a term that has racist and sexist connotations (however faint) and your response is “that’s ridiculous” instead of “how can we fix this,” then people in the real world are probably going to think you’re a jack*ss.

      Not sure when the sentiment of “I don’t care who is offended, I will say whatever I want” became so in vogue, but I’m not a fan. It’s not about censorship or political correctness, it’s about being a nice person and considerate of those around you. Davis isn’t trying to push some leftist agenda–he felt that students, especially students of color, were troubled by the use of the term, so he changed it. And good for him.

      • InTheShelter

        Make no mistake, it’s about political correctness and an attempt to control others while simultaneously whining that someone controls them.

      • ImmigrationReformNow

        Americans are fed up with the pc police

    • 15gladyskravitz

      This is the new Yale and it isn’t pretty.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Who gave the Socially Justicular the right to rename everything? When did that happen?

  • Mary Ann

    Clown

  • branford73

    Seems a little silly, since no one of any sense should take offense at the title. I don’t recall using “master” as part of any greeting or reference to the college Master. It was always Dr. or Professor so-and-so anyway. But if that’s his preference it ought to be honored.

    • BraveNewWhirled

      “Master” also means “expert” and there’ll be none of that.

  • The Truong

    If Davis wanted this change, he should have discussed this issue with the Council of Masters rather than make a unilateral decision on his own. Bad move on his part.

  • Nancy Morris

    Those who lead the residential colleges should be referred to simply as “Your Holiness.” That title is completely unsullied by racist associations or, indeed, any use in this country at all, and would accurately capture the spirit of Davis’ thinking.

    Alternatively, they could be called “Poobahs.” The term “Grand Poobah” was used on the television show The Flintstones as the name of a high ranking elected position in a secret society. Fred Flintstone and his friend Barney Rubble were members of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes Lodge No. 26. Despite the unfortunate claim made at the University of Pennsylvania some years ago that the use of the phrase “you water buffaloes” was uttered as racist opprobrium, it seems unlikely the title will engender offense.

    Bill Levin, founder of the First Church of Cannabis in Indiana, refers to himself as the Grand Poobah of the church. But he should not be confused with Rick Levin, the former distinguished president of Yale.

    • anonymous

      People should be aware that NANCY MORRIS is a candidate for President of the United States.

  • yalie

    Since the title has been awarded irrespective of gender, race, sexuality etc. for a long time, isn’t it reasonable to assume that the associations he sees — those “deeply problematic racial and gender hierarchies” — are no longer valid, and that the word has been reclaimed?

    • wr

      This way gets more media attention.

      • BraveNewWhirled

        Media attention? I would be embarrassed to admit such inanity.

  • Xia

    This is a good move, but a minor one. Yale needs to tackle bigger issues; even beyond Calhoun. Start with the Jovin case at Yale SO Architecture and keep running down the list.

    • 15gladyskravitz

      Or…find another college.

  • Guest

    FYI: the title “Master” is predominantly for boys who are not yet old enough to be called “Mister”; generally under the age of 8.

    In this case, where the high emotional sensitivity (and low intellectual dexterity) of Professor Davis is akin to that of an 8-year old boy, I would posit that “Master Davis” is actually the most accurate title we can give to him.

    • 15gladyskravitz

      Touché.

  • Fred Bloggs

    Where does the madness end? Will Yale ban the Wassail Song next? Does Yale even know what the Wassail Song is? Personally, the term “Yalie” has always offended me! I demand a change to “Distinguished Student” or Yale will never see a damned dime of my money!

  • HaroldAMaio

    Humor?

    • BraveNewWhirled

      Nope.

  • certbobdobbs .

    Ideological Subversion at its finest.

  • HarborBeach

    This is the height of hubris! Master Davis is smart enough to know that the title Master as applied to a residential college at Yale has absolutely nothing to do with slavery, racism, sexism or any other politically correct monikers. Shouldn’t Master Davis be teaching Pierson students to not take offense to things like this that are so obviously benign? Master Davis should also teach that history did not begin when he or Yale students decide it did. What right does Master Davis have to change the titular structure of the Yale Colleges anyway? Master Davis’ picayune actions might seem gallant and brave to the ignorant and uninformed. But in the real world, Master Davis actions are nothing more than a idealistic stand is an easy way for him to feel good about himself with no real risk or consequence.

    • 15gladyskravitz

      Agreed. For those who abhor banishing parts of speech, using words with possible offensive connotations, is the best way to change the egregious meaning of those words. While not a single soul at Yale has ever had a slave master, the use of the word associated with a positive experience is the best way to alter its perception!

  • HarborBeach

    This also begs the question of whether or not Master Davis actually understands what the term “Master” means? This reminds me of the time the Washington DC Public Advocate David Howard was forced to resign because he used the word “niggardly” in a staff meeting. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/daily/jan99/district27.htm

    All sorts of idiots demanded that Mr. Howard be fired for such a blatantly racist remark. The only problem is that the word “niggardly” means to act in a stingy or meager manner, and has no racist connotations whatsoever.

    • GarySweeten

      The racist term “black hole” is incessantly used in some schools. It must go immediately. As the top Emperor of The Society of Continually Offended I demand all Yalies be required to attend a Junior College after graduation to gain some sensitivity to the underclass.

      • Zxer91

        The term “junior” should also go since it’s use automatically denotes there must be a superior.

  • Hotdog70000000

    Does this apply to Mace Windu?

  • GarySweeten

    The terms Professor and Faculty are also very racist. Blacks and a Females were only able to be faculty members recently.

    • peconic1960

      Why does that make the terms themselves racist? (Hint: it doesn’t)

      • ldffly

        You neglected to consider disparate impact. (Sarcasm)

  • Matria

    This is just minutiae. If Yale really wants to help women and minorities in New Haven, put Alan Plattus in cuffs today. If you think St. Paul’s crisis is bad….

  • Cap_Curmudgeon

    They are oblivious to the effect this has on their reputation.

  • Zxer91

    Liberalism is a disease. The sooner we officially recognize it, the sooner we can apply for federal grants in order to stamp it out.

  • 72bullldog

    Don’t call him Shirley either.

  • Ezra Pound

    Has any one noticed that “higher” education in America outside of the hard sciences has become a complete joke? Liberal Arts is now little more than a giant scam/hoax to create an army of cultural Marxist who are trapped in a bottomless pit of debt. A joke indeed….on Americans.

    • ldffly

      Blame the Yale English department of the late 1970s.

  • td2016

    He said: “Now you just fought one hell of a fight
    And I know you hate me, and you got the right
    To kill me now, and I wouldn’t blame you if you do.
    But ya ought to thank me, before I die,
    For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye
    Cause I’m the son-of-a-bitch that named you “Sue.'”

    I got all choked up and I threw down my gun
    And I called him my pa, and he called me his son,
    And I came away with a different point of view.
    And I think about him, now and then,
    Every time I try and every time I win,
    And if I ever have a son, I think I’m gonna name him
    Bill or George! Anything but Sue! I still hate that name.

  • Prg234

    In relation to this latest linquistic and somewhat odd apologist folly, as well as the Calhoun brouhaha, I ask Yale faculty and students to consider thinking through some of their more extreme positions aimed at an apparent utopian ideal. Carried out to the most logical and eventual conclusion we would be required to rename hundreds of thousands of public buildings, streets, and other place names as they commonly lead back to individuals that were quite imperfect. We are in a current cultural climate that mainly focuses on racist or sexists themes, but certainly almost every historical figure can be accused of a plethora of sins and most (if not all) individuals in this great country of ours can be considered complicit with the mass extermination, enslavement, and mistreatment of the continent’s native peoples. While I am sure that the proponents of this “correctness” methodology are mostly well meaning, I propose that they are greatly misguided by focusing their energies on inert symbolism rather than active embracement of all fellow humans in true and lasting fellowship.

  • ya4918

    Not sure how I feel about this, but I’m very happy to be on a campus where this discussion is vibrant and taking place. There are far too many universities where the students/administrations don’t care.