College Weighs Tradition and Inclusivity in Mascot Debate
Issue   |   Wed, 04/03/2013 - 02:10
Archives and Special Collections
Lord Jeffery Amherst was the commander-in-chief of British forces in North America between 1758 and 1765.

On Monday night, students, faculty, staff and administrators met in the Red Room to discuss the possibility of changing the College’s mascot, Lord Jeff, in order to distance the College from Lord Jeffery Amherst’s genocidal legacy. The meeting — which was organized by Risalat Khan ’13, a Senator in the Association of Amherst Students (AAS), included a historical presentation by Michael Kelly, Head of Archives and Special Collections and a town hall–discussion between attendees.
Khan decided to organize the meeting in response to longstanding concerns about the mascot’s connections to Lord Jeffery Amherst’s genocidal statements and actions towards Native Americans during his time as the commander-in-chief of the British Army in North America.

“This has been something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. To be honest, when I was a freshman, I heard about Lord Jeff and I was sort of disturbed by the celebration of him as the mascot, which I feel is different from naming ourselves Amherst after the town. We are representing ourselves with a figure actively associated with a dark part of history. In my senior year, I asked myself what I wanted to do with my senior year, and I knew that I had to bring up the issue of the mascot,” Khan said.

While the precise extent and nature of Lord Jeffery Amherst’s connection to genocide is unclear — the efficacy and historical accuracy of the infamous smallpox blanket incident has been questioned — it is undeniable that Lord Jeffery Amherst promoted genocide against Native Americans both in word and in deed, according to Kelly. In several letters written during the Pontiac uprising in 1763, Lord Jeffery Amherst mentioned wanting to “Bring about the Total Extirpation of those Indian Nations,” calling Native Americans an “execrable race” and aiming to “put a most Effectual Stop to their very Being.”
However, it is clear, Kelly said, that Lord Jeffery Amherst never had any direct connection with the College. In fact, there is no record of Lord Jeff ever being officially chosen as the College’s mascot.

“The historical connection between the College and Lord Jeffery Amherst is zero. The town was named for him, specifically — the town actually petitioned to be named in his honor. The College was just named because it was founded in Amherst, and so it’s Amherst College. If you search the Amherst College website, there’s very few mentions of Lord Jeff, and as Suzanne Coffey mentioned at the meeting, he’s not on the uniforms — they’ve always just had an ‘A’ on them. I don’t think the mascot was ever voted on by the trustees or the students or the faculty. I don’t know that there are any records of it ever being considered,” Kelly said.

According to Kelly, the first mention of Lord Jeffery Amherst as a part of College traditions did not occur until 1906, when James Shelley Hamilton, a member of the Glee Club and the Class of 1906, wrote a song called “Lord Jeffery Amherst,” which includes the line “to the Frenchmen and the Indians he didn’t do a thing.” However, Kelly said, it is unlikely that anyone at the College knew about Lord Jeffery Amherst’s connection with genocide.

“They knew he was involved in the French and Indian War, but Hamilton admits that he did no research on Lord Jeff before writing the song. He cites a poem in the Amherst Literary Monthly of February 1903 as his inspiration, which has a biographical sketch attached to it, and the sketch only mentions that ‘he was not successful’ during the Pontiac uprising,” Kelly said.

Nevertheless, Kelly said that he felt that it was time for the College to find a mascot with more positive associations.
“We have the opportunity to change this. One-hundred ten years ago some students just like you guys, sitting around and deciding to write a song for the College, and it turned into this. I think this is a moment too, where students can decide who we want to be going forward. Just because of this accident of history, we don’t have to stick with this. If we want the College to be some place that’s inclusive and open, and something that we can be proud of, I think we need to just sit down and do it right this time,” Kelly said.

Several students echoed Kelly’s sentiments. Danielle Trevino ’14, who is Native American, said that she thought is was inappropriate for the College to be represented by a “symbol of oppression” like Lord Jeff.

“Some people believe that drawing a parallel between Jeffrey Amherst and Adolf Hitler is going too far, but for me and many other Native people, Amherst is our Hitler. Amherst referred to Native Americans as an ‘execrable race’ and wanted to exterminate us as if we were vermin,” Trevino said. “Knowing that he acted on that desire via biological warfare, how can that not be understood as genocide?”

However, other students, such as Adam Medoff ’13, a member of the College’s baseball team, felt that the issue was more complex and that there was value in maintaining the College’s traditions.

“I think that there hasn’t been enough discussion about what it means to Amherst to change it. I definitely understand the argument, but I don’t think enough has been said about the traditions of this school and how they’re being lost. We’re one of the oldest schools in the country, but I don’t think anyone knows our fight song. There’s not much that makes Amherst unique except for the fact that we’re a great liberal arts college and maybe our open curriculum,” Medoff said.

Participants at the meeting also considered the impact of Lord Jeff on the College’s efforts to recruit students from a diverse background. Several students mentioned that they had had hesitations about coming to the College after finding out about the mascot, and Dean of Admissions Katie Fretwell said that although she had never faced any direct questions about the mascot she felt that it did not capture the full diversity of the College.

“I struggle with the conflicting nature of the College’s interest in sustaining traditions, as a proud and old institution as ours is wont to have, and the fact that our current mascot may symbolize genocide to many, a value to which the College is most distinctly opposed. Many see our commitment to the development of a learning environment where difference is examined and celebrated being thwarted by our having Lord Jeff be the icon behind whom we rally in pride. I am also uncomfortable with the practice of female athletes being called by a male name,” Fretwell said.

Across their disagreements about the suitability of the College’s mascot, many attendees of the meeting agreed that the College needed to work to build a stronger community that is both inclusive of all its members and in touch with its traditions.

“This issue is a manifestation of the fact that this institution has transformed in a lot of significant ways. I have seen it, the very sudden change in the demographics of our student body that is increasingly international, increasingly diverse in terms of socio-economics, ethnicity and race. We have precedents with the College going through these kinds of changes. Certainly with going co-educational, people had concerns that ‘this won’t be the Amherst that I knew,’ but I think hopefully we can all agree that the decision to go co-educational strengthened this institution, and that we look back on this as a positive change in this college,” said Robert Hayashi, Assistant Professor of English and American Studies, who spoke in favor of changing the mascot at the meeting. “The challenge of difference is one way in which we could use more intentional structures in terms of enabling students, faculty, administrators and staff to have productive, generative and honest conversations about difference that are targeted towards moving forward with a collective desire to do so. I do think there is a need for that and this is another manifestation of that.”

Medoff agreed, saying that he thought the primary goal of the discussion should be to build a stronger Amherst College community.

“I think that conversation is a good conversation to have. I just think there needs to be more discussions about clinging onto our traditions just because there are so few of them, and that’s a shame for a school that’s been around for so long. I definitely don’t think it’s a black and white issue; many opinions should be heard. We should do something that the entire Amherst community supports, from the people who are here to the people who have been here; all voices should be heard,” Medoff said.

Anchor
Comments
José (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/03/2013 - 14:37

I always thought our mascot name was a bit odd. It's not very catchy. It doesn't seem to elicit any prowess or uniqueness that we would boast. Tradition is hard to break. But we did become co-ed and ended our fraternities. We have room to go. The most powerful argument, in my mind, would be to have our female athletes feel more included by changing to a gender neutral figure.

Robert Gibralter (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/03/2013 - 17:36

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Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/03/2013 - 19:30

I applaud the discussion but disagree with the need to change the mascot. LJA did give smallpox blankets to the native americans, but the native americans were also raping and killing british women and children on behalf of the French. It was a different time and it was a time of war, and while LJA has become synonymous with genocide, the attribution is not entirely accurate. We need to better understand our mascot in order to embrace his good qualities.

An Alumnus
P.S. Almost everyone knows our fight song.

"Albert Bard" (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/03/2013 - 22:23

“Lord Jeff” as Amherst’s mascot can only be appreciated in the context of Charles Hamilton 1906’s song. Hamilton composed “Lord Jeffery Amherst” to lampoon the pomposity of Harvard and Yale apotheosizing their respective, lackluster, namesakes on behalf of their football chauvinism (“Forget your Johnies and your Elis.”). His invocation of “Lord Jeff” as the College mascot was tongue-in-cheek. Sophisticated readers will catch his implicit lyrical critique of the historical figure. The default choice of Lord Jeff as the College’s mascot reflected a turn-of-the century Amherst student culture that was anti-“rah-rah,” nonchalant in its observance of then imperative collegiate conventions and adverse to hysteria, athletic or otherwise. It is the apparent extinction of those hallmarks of Amherst College character, more than any fantasized injury to contemporary sensibilities, that perhaps argues most forcefully for a new mascot. That being said, “Lord Jeffery Amherst” makes a catchy little tune, one of the more famous in the repertoire of “College Songs”, and one of the few that does not valorize excessive alcohol consumption, as the analog Williams song “Come Fill Your Glasses Up” does. It would at least amount to a material loss of nuance in Amherst College identity to efface or supplant Lord Jeff as our mascot. But, in any event, the proposal strikes this history major as a bit Stalinist in its justification and begging more rigorous and capacious cultural analysis than its advocates have summoned to date.

Ophelia Hu '12 (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/04/2013 - 01:22

I live and work in the Navajo Nation; many students in the area who've visited Amherst College felt that it was cold, unwelcoming, and homogenous. This isn't just a once-or-twice report. And these same students have had great impressions of Williams.

I haven't told them about Jeffery Amherst because, while I love my college, I'm ashamed of our mascot. What message would that send to young people who already feel marginalized or unwelcome?

If we're remotely concerned about alienating an entire group of people from our campus, which strives through imperfections to be inclusive, why is the appropriateness of our mascot even a question

- An alumna

P.S. I don't know our fight song.

R.H. Granzow (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/04/2013 - 01:48

Let he who is without sin throw the first football.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/04/2013 - 01:58

this conversation is stupid. leave lord jeff as the mascot. why would you change something that has been around for ages? people at amherst just love to complain. if we change mascots i am definitely not donating when i'm an alum

Class of 2011 (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/04/2013 - 12:57

Seems like this comes up every other year. I am in the "no change" camp. I'll say a couple of things.

The first is about Lord Jeffrey Amherst and the circumstances surrounding the alleged biological warfare. Michael Kelly clearly knows more about this than I, and the article is correct in stating that Lord Jeffrey Amherst "promoted genocide against Native Americans both in word and in deed." He exchanged letters in which he supported the tactic of infecting Native Americans with smallpox with inoculated blankets.

Now, while this is a despicable act, a few facts about the world Lord Jeffrey Amherst inhabited bear mentioning. First of all, the acts in question took place in the aftermath of the French and Indian War. The British drove out the French and treated the Native Americans as if they had no right to the land, clearing trees and allowing pretty much any British settler to occupy what he pleased. What followed was a war caused by British expansionism and all of the accompanying circumstances, though a war initiated by Native American raids throughout the Great Lakes region.

To my knowledge the British were not at that time actually killing Native Americans, but rather taking their land. It should be noted that the truer scourges to the Native Americans brought by the British were alcohol and disease epidemics. Smallpox was rampant among the Native Americans simply because they had no immunity to it.

Now, when Lord Jeffrey Amherst wrote to one of his colonels in support of the use of chemical warfare, it was assuredly an underhanded tactic he was agreeing to employ. However, it is also true that this exact tactic was already being used by the officers at Fort Pitt where Lord Jeffery Amherst and Colonel Henry Bouquet conspired to use it. This was not an idea unique to either man. And ultimately, the tactic's effectiveness is unclear, as so many Native Americans were contracting the disease through contact with the British regardless of the character of those interactions, hostile or friendly.

It must also not be lost in this discussion, seeing as we are weighing the morality of the deeds of Lord Jeffrey Amherst, that the tactics of the Native Americans were hardly nobler. They raided frontier settlers (families), killing scores of them without discrimination or mercy. It is hard for me to see who gets excused for what. There were terrible acts committed by both sides, regardless of who held the upper hand, or who would eventually "triumph" in the larger conflict.

The main point I wish to raise is that Lord Jeffrey Amherst's willingness to employ biological warfare against the Native Americans on behalf of the British colonies was neither novel nor even particularly heinous in the larger context of a) the war in which it took place, and b) warfare in general. It is certainly the case that many great men lauded in the history of every nation were guilty of far bloodier, more damaging attacks than Lord Jeffrey Amherst’s smallpox blanket assault – which, I feel it necessary to reiterate, may not have done any additional damage to indigenous tribes beyond the smallpox that the British colonists were already inadvertently communicating to the Native Americans.

My second point relates to those voiced by Mr. Medoff. As a graduate of Amherst College, I strongly support her institutions and her traditions. It is a tradition that students sled down Memorial Hill on Val trays upon the first snow of the year. It is a tradition that the senior class travels to Myrtle Beach before they graduate. It is a tradition that the school’s faculty forms a gauntlet through which seniors walk during the commencement ceremony.

I am at pains to find another Amherst tradition that inhabits the muddled moral space that Lord Jeffrey Amherst seems to. However, the importance of Amherst’s traditions do not rely on their controversy or even their many merits. It is certainly fun to sled down Memorial Hill, and it is a fitting tribute to the seniors who have worked so hard for four years that they are greeted at that final moment as students by the professors with whom they’ve shared so much.

But the true value of a tradition is that it connects you to those who have come before. Amherst is what it is above all because of its community. The professors who work harder than they do anywhere else to accommodate and help students; the students who hail from every conceivable background and location, and who are, in my experience, humble and kind to a fault; the alumni whose fond memories oblige them to return, to help those younger than they, to eternally refresh the resources and opportunities of those lucky enough to be welcomed into this community. And despite the hip posture of many a disgruntled undergrad that they don’t feel accepted at Amherst, or that they don’t believe in its community, in its administration, in its alumni, in its students, my experience has been so resoundingly the opposite that I can only shake my head. These elements of our community are important. The fact that, as Alan Bard so eloquently pointed out, our fight song is essentially satirical, that it is “nonchalant in its observance of then imperative collegiate conventions and adverse to hysteria,” marks it as truly unique to our truly unique community. It is creative and funny. The adoption of a particular man as our mascot is at once idiosyncratic and rather bold. It connects the laughter we have now to those of our forebears. It embodies, in every aspect, the legacy left to me and my peers by those that studied at Amherst before us, and it is part of the legacy that we (I and those I know from my time there) wish to leave to those who are there now and who will come later.

And as a legacy, this mascot is ideal. It is ideal because it is flawed. Did Lord Jeffery Amherst attempt to infect Native Americans with smallpox? Yes. Are we lampooning the man while simultaneously honoring the wonderful town that happens to be named for him? Yes.

Deep in my bones, I hate the idea of changing the mascot because it reeks of revisionism and a supercilious brand of political correctness, that Amherst must cleanse itself. This is not true. Amherst is a wonderful place. It has its blemishes, but its blemishes are those of the prevailing society, blemishes it shares with the country it is part of and that country’s history. They are not private sins for which we as an institution must self-flagellate in quiet corners. We should bear our legacy with pride, knowing it is imperfect. Anything else amounts to an attempt to rewrite our history, which we know no amount of scrubbing can do. No, instead, I say we wear this conversation as a badge confirming that Amherst can discuss the concerns of its community and ultimately come to the right conclusion: that the facts, such as they are, deem changing the mascot to be silly, wholly revisionist, and ultimately more damaging to the community than helpful. Why more damaging? Because any Amherst Student whose response to learning of Lord Jeffrey Amherst is to accept received facts and pass judgment off the cuff is not the student I want at Amherst; it is not the student that Amherst hopes to attract. The Amherst students I know are the ones who look beyond the face of any issue, who dive into it until they wear it like…a…shirt…who can see that there is no interesting yes/no question, and, above all, who can take a joke.

Our mascot lampoons a silly little man from a horrible time whose name fell to a kick-ass town where the greatest college in the world happily rests. Changing that mascot won’t erase his deeds nor bring any glory to the college; it will only cheapen our values and mark us as resoundingly thin-skinned.

A. Coburn '11 (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/04/2013 - 15:43

I agree with the call for a more nuanced approach to thinking about what Jeffery Amherst and the fight song mean to our college. As articulated by "Albert Bard" and "Class of 2011" above, neither the lyrics of the song nor the adoption of LJA as our mascot serve to endorse his treatment of Native Americans. Both the song and the mascot itself, in fact, drip with irony. To outright condemn these traditions without recognizing the subtle but significant value of their presence to the culture and identity of Amherst would be an unfortunate reaction derived from a cheap, simplistic, and superficial interpretation of the song and the mascot. The fact that the song lyrics (and the mascot they inspired) are at once creative/witty and provocative of critical thought and moral reflection about an ethically questionable time in American history makes the mascot a fitting testament to the creative and intellectual culture of Amherst. Representing the Lord Jeffs on the athletic fields never reduced my respect for Native Americans in any way, but it did make me more conscious of my ancestors' path into this nation and enabled me to think more critically about how we should retrospectively regard racists like Lord Jeff, or for that matter slave owners like Washington and Jefferson. And hearing the song at basketball games made me realize that even in 1906, Amherst students like Charles Hamilton were starting to pry into these issues, and were able to do so in a humorous and engaging way, through the creative medium of music. The fact that we can connect with Hamilton's satire today, and that his creative work sparks such debates within the college's community, reflects the power of the tradition that he started back in 1906 by composing "Lord Jeffery Amherst." The invocation of humor and intellectual debate across generations of students is a mark of a strong tradition, and indeed makes for a more memorable mascot than a Yale Bulldog, a Stanford Cardinal, or a Middlebury Panther (in fact, there has recently been a debate across the Middlebury campus about changing their mascot on the grounds of its irrelevance to the school and region, which in my opinion provides a much stronger foundation for debate).

Also, there is much to be said for having a similar-sounding and equally silly, quirky, cheeky mascot as our rivals across the Berkshires. Losing that Eph/Jeff dynamic would be sad. As to the point about making female athletes feel more comfortable, I would be in full support of the addition of a Lady Jeff mascot!

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/04/2013 - 16:09

Does it somehow make it better that we're considering the targeted killing of Native Americans to be "cheeky?"

The Joker (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/04/2013 - 23:59

The Amherst baseball team used to put on minstrel shows in black-face to raise money each season. It was, of course, just a joke. They weren't endorsing racism or violence against African-Americans; they were just being funny. A few decades ago (unfortunately I don't know the exact date) the College decided that minstrel shows might be inappropriate for an institution of the College's stature, and the practice ceased. But they were just being thin-skinned, right? I mean, come on, take a joke!

On a serious note, there is nothing wrong with traditions, but we shouldn't endorse the mascot simply because of tradition. Dozens of colleges and universities across the country have changed their mascots for similar reasons; not because they were thin-skinned or revisionist or Stalinist (as one commenter suggested), but because mascots that celebrate genocide alienate members of the College community who hail from historically oppressed backgrounds or simply find the concept of exterminating an entire race of people distasteful.

Yes, I know, the conflict between the British and Native Americans was morally ambiguous, etc., etc. and the College only uses Lord Jeff "ironically" so it's no big deal, right? First off, the conflict is no where near as morally ambiguous as you portray it. The British invaded North America and drove Native Americans off land they had inhabited for centuries, introduced terrifying diseases, and intentionally hunted down and murdered Native American men, women, and children. Lord Jeff himself said that he wished that he could "extirpate this execrable race" using any means necessary: smallpox, "hunting down by dogs," and traditional military methods. Lord Jeff, as the commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, led a concerted effort to commit genocide against a people merely defending their lands against invasion by the French, Spanish, Dutch, British, and others. We wouldn't make Jean Kambanda or Yahya Khan our mascot, even if the College were in a town named after. Lord Jeff is no different. Also, your assertion that our mascot "lampoons a silly little man" is both unsupported and irrelevant to this discussion. The College has a portrait of Lord Jeff displayed prominently in the Mead Art Museum, and for about forty years, the china in Val depicted Lord Jeff hunting down Native Americans on horseback. James Shelley Hamilton, the composer of the song mainly responsible for Lord Jeff's prominence at the College, never intended to "lampoon" Lord Jeff (see: http://consecratedeminence.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/hamilton-letter.pdf), but rather sought to give the College a "personality" to celebrate in a "cheerful ditty." Moreover, even if Lord Jeff is only "lampooned" by the College, it doesn't change the fact that the mascot is offensive. You wouldn't lampoon Adolf Hitler by naming your athletic teams after him, would you?

Class of 2011 (not verified) says:
Fri, 04/05/2013 - 09:53

In the interests of this discussion, I think it is absolutely necessary to dispense with this lazy and unfounded Holocaust comparison.

Let me be clear: the subjugation of the Native Americans was an abomination, a catastrophe, a Shoah in the truest sense of the word. There is no disputing that.

Further, it has always struck me as futile and vain to compare human suffering and agony across time and space. Critical discourse somehow loses its meaning in the examination of the depths of human pain. It seems more likely to me that the agony of any single person can so obscure our senses and disorient the faculties that merely comprehending the agony of many is not possible. This makes the following discussion all the more difficult and sensitive.

But on the same token, not only in this discussion but in a society at large in which spurious comparisons to Hitler and the National Socialist Party are rampant, we must be able to differentiate between a certain group of human calamities that include the Holocaust, the reign of Kmer Rouge, the Armenian genocide, and the Stalinist rule in Soviet Russia; as opposed to other horrible events that, though horrible, are very different in terms of magnitude, context, and animating spirit.

I will point out two main aspects of the Holocaust that differ fundamentally from the Native American plight, not to claim that the Native American downfall in the Americas was not a terrible chapter in our history, but that the Holocaust was a unique expression of human vileness that is not really comparable. Please observe that I make no claims about what is relatively "worse" - no such claim can be made by a reasonable person. I only claim that they are fundamentally DIFFERENT, and that invoking one inevitably obscures the discussion of the other. My claim is not that the Native American subjugation was "less bad"; in fact, in terms of the total number of fatalities, the Native American experience dwarfed the death toll of the Holocaust. Rather, my claim is that simply acknowledging the fundamental differences must lead one to conclude that the two cannot be used as evidentiary support for a claim made about the other; that they are not relevant to one another, that they occupy two very different locations in the history of our consciousness and therefore say very different, incompatible things about our past.

The first aspect of the Holocaust I will point out is what I will call its "animating spirit." The animating spirit of the Holocaust was to annihilate several specific groups of people from the earth, or, more specifically, in any territory that came under Nazi control. This involved 1) sending out "death squads" to murder the inhabitants of towns in the Wehrmacht's wake as they pushed east, and 2) sending millions of people to death camps. What I will point out is that the groups were targeted for extermination based on their ethnic identity (contrived though it was) with no ability to defend themselves and almost no variability in their treatment. In other words, groups were targeted because of WHO they were, and EVERYONE who was THAT KIND OF THING was murdered, no questions asked. Now contrast this to the Native American situation. The Native Americans were targeted because of WHERE they were; it is a fact that, instead of murder or war, in many cases the Native Americans were compelled to leave their land. This is a different fate. Would we view the Holocaust the same way if all of the Nazi's victims were offered the chance, as was deceptively suggested to usher them onto cattle cars, to be "evacuated," relocated, simply moved somewhere else? No, we would not. And not all Native Americans the British/Americans could get there hands on were indiscriminately slaughtered. There were at times and in different places peace accords between the colonists and the Native Americans. There were wars that broke out and ebbed, there were Native Americans who were absorbed into the encroaching society, and there were long periods of time in various places where the Native Americans and westward expanding British/Americans lived side by side. Thus, these are not comparable events.

The second aspect of the Holocaust I will label its "repetitive and evolving brutality." The Nazis invented and developed a method of murdering large groups of people as efficiently as possible. This is related to the animating spirit of their terrible endeavor, but it also bears another horrible aspect: the Nazis saw the potential of their works, and instead of being horrified, they worked toward INCREASING that efficiency. They made bigger gas chambers, bigger crematoria, and so on. They were faced with the outcomes of their works, and pushed on to lower and lower realms of mass murder. The British/Americans did not seek to collect the Native Americans in one place and slaughter them. In fact, the VAST MAJORITY of the deaths of Native Americans, from present-day Canada down to South America, can be attributed to an inadvertent communication of contagious diseases. Simply by arriving in the Americas, European colonists effected the deaths of millions INDEPENDENT of any ill will or barbaric campaigning to gain more territory. There is an enormous difference between the mechanistic expansion of the Nazi extermination campaign and the massive epidemics of colonial America and the ensuing overpowering of the Native Americans.

Again, I say this not to make any comparison between the two events, but instead to claim, simply, that they are not comparable. I make the further request, based on the distinctions and reasoning I've mentioned, that the invocation of Hitler or Nazis no longer have a place in this discussion; such citations are not constructive, nor are they relevant to Lord Jeffrey Amherst himself, nor to the larger context of the military operations he commanded.

Lord Jeff '11 (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/04/2013 - 13:57

Needlessly breaking century old traditions further severs Amherst from its history and its Alumni. Colleges do not exist for a period of time like people, but rather they (theoretically) exist forever. Having those linkages through time is what makes Amherst such an amazing place. When you're back on campus for reunion or otherwise and you see or hear something you recognize and can identify with, you can remember your friends, your memories, great parties, amazing professors, etc. That's the point of having tradition and trying to preserve it. It creates a common unifying bond between the different class years.

Through haphazardly and poorly executed building renovations, the College has already turned its back on tradition and preserving that what makes Amherst unique and helps bond all those proud enough to graduate a Lord or Lady Jeff. This call to change a mascot accomplishes nothing but a short-term social objective that isn't aimed at any of the reasons the College exists or should exist. It does not improve the quality of education and it does not increase the availability of that education to others. It merely attacks an old tradition meant to unite those from different backgrounds who all had the privilege of attending Amherst and receiving their education there.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/04/2013 - 16:08

If our mascot had been implicated in the Holocaust, we wouldn't think twice about changing it. And please don't try to argue that the scale here is fundamentally different, or that it was a different time. Genocide is genocide, and Lord Jeff's intent was, certainly, genocide. If you don't believe me, take a look at his letters.

Ophelia Hu '12 (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/04/2013 - 18:58

"...an old tradition meant to unite those from different backgrounds who all had the privilege of attending Amherst and receiving their education there."

Tradition is not exempt from moral consideration. Our chummy feelings don't outweigh the discomfort of others, who by the way, do not necessarily have the "'privilege' of attending Amherst," or are "lucky enough to be welcomed into this community" (Lord Jeff '11 and Class of 2011, respectively).

Our college is no island, whether we like that or not. We are members of a global community that learns from us and contributes to us. Sure, our sins are not private sins. Does that make them any less sinful? Like Class of 2011 asked, should we self-flagellate in quiet corners?

Not at all. First, we have no quiet corner. Our college on the hill can be seen from a distance, as we've discovered last semester. Also, we need not self-flagellate if we shed the shame altogether. Sure, we can be content to steep in a cesspool of "society's sins," but the institution has the unique leverage to be an example.

Also, Class of 2011, I'm sorry, but Amherst students do not hail from "every conceivable background and location." Look around your campus. How visible is the Native American population? Does your idea of a joke includes a cheeky jab at the marginalization of a group whose persecution persists to this day?

Also, please don't assume that one or another "type of student" is the one that Amherst hopes to attract. Amherst would do well to attract those who love their school enough to desire improvement and make it more welcoming to all.

Class of 2011 (not verified) says:
Fri, 04/05/2013 - 00:11

Ophelia,

It is not merely sufficient for a minority of dissenters (which the anti-Lord Jeff contingent is) to state that they disagree with the prevailing circumstances in order to have those circumstance changed. We live in a pluralistic society where these things are discussed on their merits (at least that’s what we foster in our own community) and, on balance, nothing you have said adds much weight to your side of this story.

To your specific points…

I highly doubt anyone much cares about the obscure 18th century British officer we lampoon as our mascot. Note that this “call to action” comes not from anywhere outside of our walls; on the contrary, it comes from a small contingent of undergraduates who, with absolutely no offense intended, are not nearly as experienced or wise as the vast majority of the community, namely the alumni – a group that, as you’ll notice, has a range of well-articulated and principled reasons for why the mascot should NOT be changed.

As for the diversity of our school, as Pond Class of ’88 mentions, Amherst is, in fact, one of the most diverse undergraduate student bodies in the world. While the last five classes have only had a total of 4 students self-identifying as Native American, that number is not too far off statistically from the less than 0.8% of current American citizens who are of that ethnicity. In any case, it is not a plausible goal for an institution of our size to accurately reflect the make up of the American population.

Further, it is not simply incumbent upon us to child proof our entire campus and culture. If we did so, we would probably want to start with tearing Johnson Chapel to the ground in penance for all of the witches who were wrongly persecuted here by colonial Massachusetts Christians around the time of the town’s founding. I’m quite confident there is a number of self-identifying Wiccans among the student population commensurate to that of Native Americans. Not to mention the vast number of people who Christianity has, in one way or another, persecuted. Shall we start with the arguments on behalf of the Jews or the Muslims on campus?

The point, cheekily made though it be, is that we can’t accommodate every cast-off whim of prospective and current students. We should have a discussion about it, such as this one, but as the conclusion has been reached every time before, the facts do not merit the proposed action. When we EXAMINE what Lord Jeffrey did and did not do, and when we EXAMINE our relationship to him, we find that our mascot is not quite the monster some flippantly suppose him to be, and that our adoption of him as our mascot is far more complex than simply “rooting for” him as a person or an idea. As Mr. Bard mentioned, our stance relative to Lord Jeff is the irreverent thumbing-of-the-nose that has marked all of our finest graduates.

And your last point about the type of student Amherst hopes to attract: our school makes it an explicit mission to attract STUDENTS of a certain quality. I believe my definition of those students holds up: that we want students who will consider all sides of a certain issue, even where they initially disagree with the prevailing opinions about that issue. I believe I have done that in my two posts. Everyone wants Amherst to be the best it can be. Our view is that Amherst is best with Lord Jeff as its quite imperfect and appropriate unofficial mascot, and that an administrative or student-driven edict condemning the spirit of so many of our forerunners is fundamentally damaging to the student culture of our campus: it wags a self-righteous finger at the alums who, in all honesty, are AGREEING with you in principle, but simply taking a more subversive and interesting approach to voicing their principles. Further, such an edict it creates an atmosphere that tends toward a political correctness that is, in all honesty, no less repugnant than the sentiments it finds error with. All no-questions-asked revisionism, which replaces conversation with unassailable, cursory taste-testing, is just as odious.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 04/05/2013 - 09:49

In response to your assertion that no one cares about Lord Jeffery Amherst, I have a hunch that the commander of British forces in North America will be of some concern at this conference on Pontiac's War. http://www.mceas.org/pontiac/index.htm

pond class of '88 (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/04/2013 - 20:57

Re: Lord Jeff...I like a lot of what's been said in this comment section. And I'm pretty shocked to hear that our mascot, Lord Jeff, is coming under fire. Among other reasons for Lord Jeff's enduring quality as a mascot, the Jeff sets us apart from the panthers and minutemen and cougars and cardinals of this world.

As far as I know, the founders of Amherst College, riding across the Pioneer Valley on horseback away from the wretched isolation of Williamstown, arrived on our glorious hilltop and named their college after a town.

Sure, this town was named for a blanket-giving Englishman, but without reiterating much of the smart commentary above (Albert, Coburn, class of '11, etc..), if we're worried about the name "Lord Jeff," then why don't we consider changing the name of our college entirely? If Lord Jeff offends and marginalizes, then Lord Jeff's last name is just as offensive. Right?

Final thought, to the above post from the member of the class of '12: I'm a little confused by your second-to-last paragraph. From everything I've heard at recent reunions and on the Amherst website, our college tops the nation in socioeconomic diversity. So it sounds like the school is doing well to make the place more global and increasingly more inclusive. Maybe that's not the case? And as a quick, cheeky comment in reply to your question about the visibility of the Native American community on campus: the population of the US is around 1% Native American. I'd be willing to bet that Amherst has a higher percentage than that.

Let the discussion roll on.

And let's go Jeffs!

The Ghost of Po... (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/04/2013 - 21:18

Dear Ms. Hu,

The social forces at work that have made Native Americans underrepresented at Amherst and other colleges across the U.S. have nothing to do with our school's choice of mascot. You're conflating your arguments.

Secondly, the mascot of Lord Jeff as the symbol of our College is not an endorsement of the man or what he stood for. The original design of the United States' flag was first created when slavery was legal and women couldn't vote. Yet we don't interpret the flag now (which is the same plus a few more stars) to represent such things. Lord Jeff is meant to serve as a symbol for the College community to link us to those that came before. It's a symbol that we all received our educations there. If you take issue with the College's approach to access to education, that's an entirely different issue.

Respectfully,
The Ghost of Pond '11

Robert Gibralter (not verified) says:
Fri, 04/05/2013 - 11:32

With over 118 people responding (from posting this survey here and on facebook and twitter), almost 3/4 of respondents think AMHERST SHOULD - YES - HAVE A NEW MASCOT
https://urtak.com/u/78529/questions/117032

Paul Linn, '87 (not verified) says:
Fri, 04/05/2013 - 12:50

This same arguments were raised against Lord Jeff while I was at Amherst. My opinion has always been that it is absurd to judge an 18th century man by 20th (or 21st) century standards. The town is named for Lord Amherst (whom even J.S. Hamilton realized would never have been called "Lord Jeff") because he was a hero in his day. That society has progressed to a point where his beliefs are considered atrocious should foster discussion (as it has) but not shame.

Besides, I do love the song "Lord Jeff", and no one should underestimate its importance to alumni of all ages and sexes.

How about No? (not verified) says:
Mon, 04/08/2013 - 21:31

Yes, let's change our mascot! While we're at it -- let's relocate the college from Amherst, Mass because we can't continue supporting a town that is synonymous with genocide. And let's petition to have the Hudson River renamed because Henry Hudson was an imperialist pig! Also, Washington, DC? Gotta go! President George Washington owned slaves. This country will never reach post-racism until we unhinge every last nominal tie that we have to any vague sense of our inherently imperialist past. Pretend it never occurred, that's the motto baby PINO!

Sarah '02 (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/11/2013 - 13:25

There's a vote among alumni on planworld on which mascot to change it to. Alumni suggested alternatives. 36 alumni have voted so far. But polls are still open. Go to erfuller00 and vote.

Liz '00 (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/11/2013 - 16:33

As Sarah '02 said, a group of alums are voting among 39 proposed alternatives, ranging from ridiculous to awesome. Feel free to cast your vote.

Dane (not verified) says:
Thu, 04/25/2013 - 11:05

Why stop at the mascot? The College's name must be changed, no?

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