Re-evaluating Lord Jeff: Is emphasis on institutional history halting progress?

I was recently dismayed to learn that Amherst is changing its mascot from the Lord Jeffs to an as-yet-undecided new representative. Citing that Lord Jeffery Amherst owned slaves and condoned the distribution of small pox blankets almost 300 years ago, outraged students ousted their colonial-era figurehead. I find this confounding because virtually every part of this country is tinged with the blood of battles fought to keep or conquer it. To take offense at a symbol of a man who, in fact, was also credited with saving thousands of settlers’ lives, seems to be a silly preoccupation that only college students could have the luxury of pursuing. And seriously, if Lord Jeffery offends you so much, why did you go to Amherst?

I further ask, are the same students denying themselves the use of Amherst’s state-of-the-art classrooms, beautiful dorms and world-renowned faculty? Are they refusing scholarships and grants supported by its sizable endowment? Are they abstaining from walking on the campus’s green grass or are they not using the town at all because it is named after the same Lord Jeff?

For perspective, I am a 16th generation “American,” and many of my ancestors were killed at the hands of Native Americans. I am also part Native American and no part politically conservative. There were atrocities committed by everyone in the early days. The Deerfield Raid of 1704 is an example of how brutal colonial wars were. Warriors from various tribes, alongside the French, conducted a blitz-style massacre on the small settlement at Deerfield, Mass., indiscriminately killing over 50 residents. Nearly 100 were taken as captives and of these, many died during their forced 300-mile march to Canada.

My point is that humankind has been fighting since we first slouched in caves. Every group of people has blood on its hands. Our ancestors did whatever they had to in order to survive – disavowing a mascot doesn’t promote a better world now. If a mascot name hurts your feelings, imagine actually being shot, starving or not having access to clean drinking water. This is the fate of millions of people worldwide and within our own national borders.

Colleges and universities across the country are caving to students’ demands to rename, renounce or remove anything that offends their current sensibilities. The University of Kentucky announced last November that it will remove murals from the 1930s that, among other images of Kentucky’s history, depict African American slaves and an American Indian holding a tomahawk. For now, they have been covered with a tarp, and even though university officials and professors plead that the works are important historical and artistic artifacts, the student government is calling for their removal. I propose a less vainglorious use of the young Wildcats’ energies, such as organizing mobile health care in the state, which is one of the nation’s poorest.

The College, my own alma mater, has seen rancorous debates about the mural in the Log. The painting itself doesn’t seem obviously offensive to anyone as far as I can tell. I wish our country’s colleges and universities would fight harder to retain their cultural identities. From the Log, it isn’t too far a slippery slope (albeit uphill) to the Clark Art Institute to exile works of art that depict scenes of war and torture so that nobody squirms when looking at them. Isn’t this whitewashing history? Censoring the past isn’t the answer – ask Chairman Mao or Comrade Lenin. Instead, we should own our history and learn from it to create more balanced and humane societies.

Recently, many highly vocal students on campus insisted that an anti-feminist author be removed from a series of speakers who were brought in to encourage conversation about tough social issues. Isn’t this, along with renaming mascots and demanding the removal of monuments and murals, the type of prejudice and small mindedness that progressive thinkers are trying to conquer? Hypocrisy seems to be infiltrating campuses, and I find it to be not only an unfitting use of intellectual and financial resources, but a dangerous practice as well.

This brings me back to Amherst. The nation’s oldest college rivalry, between the Lord Jeffs and the Ephs, will now be called the meeting of the Ephs and the Whatevers. Sadder, though, is bearing witness to today’s college students, our best and brightest, wasting their gifts by silencing those with differing opinions and attempting to camouflage history. Let this be a battle cry – let’s change the future, not the past!

Candace Andrews ’86 majored in American Studies. She lives in Austin, Texas.

One comment

  1. Well said. There are no innocent cultures. Many naive people insist we should return America to the Native American tribes. But which tribes? The Cheyenne lived in the Black Hills until the Lakota conquered them and took-up residence. What? Non-Europeans actually conquered and settled territory? Yup. And the Navajo were among the most rapacious:

    “Wherever [the Navajo a/k/a Dineh’] went — until the white people subdued them — the Dineh’ like the Mongols, were raiders and spoilers. The mystery of the vanished Cliff-Dwellers [the Anasazi] is a mystery no longer when we know the nature of the warriors who came among them. The Zuñis told [General] Cushing that twenty-two different tribes had been wiped out by the Enemy people, as they called [the Navajo]; and the walled-up doors of proud Pueblo Bonito testify mutely to the fears of its inhabitants.” (Dane Coolidge 1930)

    Both Europeans and Native Americans conquered and kept territory. So why are we supposed to feel bad because Europeans were better at it?

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