Housemasters discuss renaming position due to ‘feelings of offense’
Survey of students found ‘Head of House’ to be a popular option, while ‘House Dean’ title received less enthusiasm
A proposal to change the housemaster title is currently under discussion by housemasters and students alike.
Simmons Housemaster John Essigmann first introduced the idea last month. “We were all aware of the confusion and feelings of offense that the title has caused outside our community,” Essigmann said in an email to all housemasters.
Essigmann led a discussion with the housemasters and surveyed students, finally presenting “House Dean” and “Head of House” as alternatives. Many housemasters wanted the title to be gender-neutral, unlike the current term, and avoid the word “faculty” in order to include spouse or partner housemasters. Essigmann noted that the title change was only a proposal, and the final decision would be made by Chancellor Barnhart.
After speaking with students, Essigmann found that “Head of House” was a popular choice, often due to “affection for Harry Potter and Hogwarts.”
“‘House Dean’ seems to be less palatable,” he said.
Essigmann said that a significant number of students did prefer to keep “housemaster.” In an MIT Discussion post, students gave etymological reasons as to why the name shouldn’t be considered offensive and, in some cases, criticized attempts to be “pc” (politically correct).
East Campus Housemaster Rob Miller ’95 sent a survey to residents polling them on possible alternatives. The survey included “House Parent” (which some students considered infantilizing) and “House Maven” (which some students considered silly and subtly feminine). “Dumbledore” stood out as a popular write-in among responses that ranged from serious to absurd, and included “Dorm Pope,” “Big Cheese,” and “Mufasa.”
Senior House Housemaster Jay Scheib considers “housemaster” a “funny title in that it’s kind of outdated.” He said that while he never thought about it seriously, since it is “something that people are obviously sensitive to,” he considers a change important and plans to advocate for whatever Senior House’s residents want.
The new title should represent “what we actually do in our work at the interface between MIT academics and student life” Essigmann said. Scheib agreed, saying that a change has the potential to make the title “more accurate or maybe more welcoming.”
Essigmann, along with Miller and The Warehouse Housemaster John Ochsendorf, recommended the change to housemasters on Jan. 20 after a discussion on Jan. 19.