In Other Ivory Towers

November 4, 2015 by Jace Forbes-Cockell, Executive Editor

Pressure is mounting for Amherst to change its mascot.

Amherst’s unofficial mascot is Lord Jeff, named after Lord Jeffrey Amherst, an 18th-century military figure and the namesake of Amherst, Mass. The controversy surrounding Lord Jeffrey Amherst stems from several comments he made in 1763: “Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians?” and “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.” Lord Amherst advocated for biological warfare against Native Americans, although there is no evidence that he acted on these ideas.

The debate over Amherst’s mascot has been ongoing for decades, but the movement for change is building momentum. Last spring, a petition to change the mascot, signed by 480 students, faculty and staff, was brought to President Biddy Martin. At the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) senate meeting on Oct. 5, the AAS took an official stance against using the Lord Jeff as a mascot. Recently, a different student committee declared its intention to hold a campus-wide vote on the matter by the end of the semester. Martin has held small open discussions about the mascot, but has not released an official statement for or against either the Lord Jeff or any alternative.

No one is quite sure when the Lord Jeff became Amherst’s unofficial mascot. However, historical records show it first appearing around 1905. One problem with changing the mascot is that the Lord Jeff is an unofficial mascot, so the college doesn’t have guidelines set out for how to change it.

The majority of arguments against the current mascot cite his advocacy of biological warfare against Native Americans. According to those opposed to the current mascot, Amherst should not be associated with this history. Furthermore, students who identify as Native American should not be forced to rally behind a mascot who advocated for genocide against their people.

Those in favor of keeping the Lord Jeff have said that, at a college with few historical traditions, the mascot is one, which gives it an important role in the community. Others have argued that the Lord Jeff no longer reflects the historical Lord Jeffrey Amherst, but has taken on new meaning and reflects the values of the community instead. Additionally, some students argue that Amherst is associated with Lord Jeffrey Amherst, whether he is their unofficial mascot or not, as both the college and the town are named after him.

The leading candidate if Amherst does decide to change its mascot is currently the Moose. In the spring of 2014, a moose wandered onto Amherst’s campus during finals and immediately gained a cult following. Since then, a Facebook page for the Moose has been created, and a Moose has been on the sidelines at athletic contests more and more frequently, including at the Homecoming football game for the past two years. In November 2014, a life-sized moose sculpture was mysteriously found in Frost Library, where the library staff has since adopted it into the collection.

Some who do not support Lord Jeff as mascot, however, are not hopping on the Moose bandwagon just yet. “I want to make sure everyone feels welcome, and everyone feels valued,” E.J. Mills, head coach of the Amherst varsity football team, said to the Amherst Student. “So, if our mascot right now is alienating students, then I would advocate that we really think about making a change. And yet I understand that there’s always two sides to every issue, and I think it’s important that we hear both sides.”

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