A Harvard University activist group wants the name of the school’s Board of Overseers changed due to the last word’s connection to slavery.
According to The Crimson, the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard noted “overseer” has “historically referred to men hired by plantation owners to violently control slaves.”
The Board of Overseers is Harvard’s “second-highest governing body.” The coalition, which advocates “diversity, equity, and inclusion” at the school, has sought the name change for three years.
Coalition board member Jane Sujen Bock said many Board of Overseer candidates “had not previously considered the ramifications of the title’s link to slavery.” The five candidates supported by the coalition support a name change.
As you might expect, Bock cited the current “anti-racist” atmosphere in the country as leading to a “greater push” for a new name.
Harvard Forward, a student and alumni group working to bring attention to climate change and recent alumni representation within Harvard’s governance boards, said they found the term “Overseers” to be “problematic” in a Wednesday Instagram post.
“The term ‘Overseer’ cannot be separated from its historical context and connotations. The continued use of a word characterized by such deep-rooted racism is a testament to Harvard’s failure to confront our country’s history,” they wrote.
Margaret “Midge” Purce ’17, one of the candidates running under the Harvard Forward platform, said she believes the name should change.
“I understand what they were trying to do with it,” Purce said. “I think it’s tone deaf, and I think that especially now, it really resonates with people who think symbols and names matter, because they do.”
Jayson U. Toweh, another candidate, said the name itself is “older and antiquated,” tied to discriminatory practices in the past.
As noted by The Crimson, Harvard previously did away with the term “master” for the heads of its residences, changing it to “faculty deans.” (It took the now-deans two whole months to come up with that replacement.)
In addition, last month a quartet of students created a petition to change the name of Harvard’s Mather House, named for Increase Mather, a slave owner who attended the university almost 400 years ago.