We Are The Lord Jeffs
Issue   |   Wed, 12/10/2014 - 00:01

I am a Lord Jeff. I am a first generation Amherst student. I am not writing this because I have a long connection to the history and tradition of Amherst College. This is truly what I believe, and I think there are plenty of Amherst students who share my beliefs, but fear voicing their opinion.

I had never heard of Amherst before my brother enrolled at Williams when I was in the eighth grade. He told me that the Williams’ mascot is the Ephs and Amherst’s, Williams’ biggest rival, is the Lord Jeffs. At first I didn’t think much of either mascot. Then my brother explained that Williams was given their mascot because the benefactor of the school was named Ephraim Williams. Similarly, Amherst called themselves the Lord Jeffs because the namesake of the town Amherst where the college was founded was Lord Jeffery Amherst. I gained appreciation for both mascots, as they were both historical figures and they were both a refreshing change from the overused Tigers, Panthers, and Cardinals. Both schools having unique mascots is part of the great history of the rivalry.

Figures from history must be treated within the context of their time and circumstances. Yes, the mascot refers to Jeffery Amherst, and no one denies the fact that he treated Native Americans as enemies, which to Amherst is exactly what they were. It was during Pontiac’s Rebellion when Amherst used biological warfare against the Native Americans by way of blankets infected with smallpox. This is a fact, but we must take it with the proper perspective. Weapons of mass destruction were used by both sides in both World Wars, but we must recognize and understand that the generals in these wars were operating in a situation that had no morally correct solution. Furthermore, many of our greatest heroes, including the Founding Fathers, conducted themselves in ways that today would be considered abhorrent.

Context is important. This is true for famous figures of history, but it is also true for every single student here. Don’t we want future generations to keep context in mind when forming their opinions of us? To judge a man such as Amherst for his actions by today’s standards, more than 200 years later and in a time of relative peace, is shockingly hypocritical.

If the mascot must be changed because it is offensive to the Native American community for us to be called the Lord Jeffs, then the name of the college must be changed as well if we are to have any semblance of ideological consistency. Why stop at the mascot? This seems like a pathetic and superficial response. We are called Amherst College because of Jeffery Amherst. Changing the mascot doesn’t rid us of the association with Lord Jeff, which a few people think is a problem. Far more meaningful activities are things like the Admissions Office inviting Native Americans to the Diversity Open House and spending extra time with them, in an effort to increase the amount of Native American applications sent to the college.

The Moose? Really? We want to be called the Moose because a moose wandered onto our campus last spring? Ask student-athletes if they want their team mascot to be the Moose and you will hear a resounding no. The students pushing this change are not the ones who would walk out onto the court, field, or pitch with “MOOSE” in big letters across their chest. I’m not saying student-athletes should be the ones making the decision, but they definitely should be involved in the decision. The Moose sounds more like the mascot of a created team in a video game than a prestigious institution. Some students at Amherst get wind of the idea of change and jump on board. It seems like everyone needs to be protesting something at all times. Let’s take a step back and really think about the things we are supporting.

When I think of a Lord Jeff, I don’t think of Lord Jeffery Amherst. I think of excellence, in the humanities, science, music, theater, art and athletics. I think of all the past alumni and administrators that worked to make Amherst the great place it is today. I think of sporting events and orchestra concerts, late nights in Frost and football practice. And I think of all the students of Amherst, some of whom will be groomsmen in my wedding, and godfathers to my children. The mascot Lord Jeffs provides a common ground for all of us with past and future generations of Amherst students. Changing the mascot loses this connection. They were Lord Jeffs. We are Lord Jeffs.

Anchor
Comments
Ashley Ebersole, '97 (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 11:14

This is an excellent column. The debate over Amherst's mascot has been ongoing since my days at the College. It's a worthwhile debate to have, and while I oppose a name change, I have listened to and understand the arguments made by the other side. I disagree with these arguments for the reasons the author states above, but I don't think any less of the people who make them. If we keep the Lord Jeff name and continue the College's outreach to and support of Native Americans, we will have done far more for that community than any illusory and token benefits that would be conferred by a name change.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 14:34

You might not "think less" of the people who disagree with you, but some of them certainly think less of you. You are being racist. You are erasing the voices of people who have much more to say about this than you.

And to top it all off, what on earth is this obsession with choosing ONE good thing to do? Why on earth can't we change the mascot and provide outreach to Native American students? Do you have a checklist of "good deeds of the month"?

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 22:29

By disagreeing with them he is "erasing" their voices? That's dangerous talk there.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 11:25

Thank you so much for writing this article. Though the writing is not perfect, this expresses an opinion that, in the face of overly zealous politically correctness and forced "liberalism," rarely gets voiced on this campus.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 11:37

The best and most accurate thing I have read in the Amherst Student this entire year. Well done.

Meow Mix (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 14:24

I take it you haven't been reading the Student this year?

Mamie (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 11:45

Because the mascot for a prestigious university must be [massa]cring a white man. I want to further your argument slightly and suggest that athletes actually have full dominion over the campus. For the sake of DIII athletics!

SportsGoSports (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 13:35

Who even cares about DIII sports. Seriously. Change the mascot. Get rid of the athletic teams (are DIII sports even considered sports?). Problems solved.

Student (not verified) says:
Thu, 12/11/2014 - 01:34

To "SportsGoSports", are you serious? Clearly there's sarcasm, but you are suggesting taking away something that's near and dear to a large number of students. Amherst's culture is enriched by different people, you NEED athletics at the division 3 level to balance out the student body at these schools. It would be like getting rid of international student programs, you would cut off an avenue for new people and new ideas. This column is great in that it reflects a very valid argument. Perspective is unbelievably valuable, and in this case very valid. Amherst clearly was not a perfect man, especially by today's standards. However, it is silly to punish people now for mistakes a man made centuries ago in a very different time.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 11:58

is this actually serious?

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 14:57
Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 12:14

Great article. Very well-spoken and enlightening. Hopefully other students can read this article and understand your point of view.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 12:15
Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 12:24

Ok but Mike, are you Native American? Do you understand how alienating it must feel to know that this school's mascot is in part responsible for the genocide of your people? While Amherst's diversity efforts are great, they're soured by Lord Jeff. Lord Jeff didn't found the school, he founded the town---there's not actually a reason for Amherst to have him as a mascot (he was in no way a benefactor the school). At the risk of sensationalizing my comment, I'm asking you to consider a school that, in 150 yrs, makes its mascot Hitler (for whatever reason, maybe the school has some ties with Germany). Would Jews feel comfortable attending that school? Absolutely, even if the school tried really hard to recruit them. Why should two genocidal criminals be treated differently--just because one (Jeff) lived at a time when racism and war crimes were rampant and "accepted"?

Anyway, from all my conversations with high schoolers (back when I was considering Amherst, or was accepted here, or whatever), they all think the Lord Jeff is a lame mascot (frankly, he's unexciting. Also, full disclosure: I had absolutely no moral issue with Lord Jeff back in high school, so my opinions weren't coloring those of my peers). This attachment to the Lord Jeff forms only after one has matriculated here (or perhaps before, if you're a legacy, but that's a whole different story). If we were to change the mascot, after several years all the new students would love the mascot and no one would feel alienated by our current mascot's massive acts of bioterrorism. Just because something is "tradition," doesn't make it a sin to change it (see: co-education, admitting minorities, etc etc).

Craig Wishart (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 14:12

Native Americans have and still do attend Amherst regardless of the mascot, so your example cannot be applied here

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 14:47

Are YOU Native American?

Is this real? (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 12:27

"Figures from history must be treated within the context of their time and circumstances. Yes, the mascot refers to [e.g., Adolf Hitler], and no one denies the fact that he treated [e.g., Jews] as enemies, which to [Hitler] is exactly what they were. It was during a time of [great crisis in Europe] when [Hitler] used [chemical] warfare against them by way of [bathrooms retrofitted with pipes that would carry toxic gas]. This is a fact, but we must take it with the proper perspective. Weapons of mass destruction were used by both sides in World War II, but we must recognize and understand that the generals in these wars were operating in a situation that had no morally correct solution. "

Anon (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 13:45

EXACTLY what was going through my mind...!

Anon (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 13:51
Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 15:02

Do you actually think this is a proper comparison?

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 12/11/2014 - 01:32

And why would it not be a proper comparison?

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 12/11/2014 - 14:03

As Sam Seham wrote, "When Lord Jeffery mounted his infamous biological campaign it was in the context of an all out war between combined French and Native American forces versus British colonialists. The Native Americans, unlike the Jews, were enemy combatants. Lord Jeffery's actions are more similar to the tactic of "total warfare", a strategy characterized by the targeting of civilian populations along with enemy forces. Such a strategy is regrettable but has existed since the invention of armed conflict. If Lord Jeff committed genocide then so has every general in modern history."

That is why it is not a proper comparison. Stop downplaying the holocaust, you're being an asshole

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 12:28

Why should changing the mascot make you lose the connection you have with alumni and peers? Instead of being Lord Jeffs you will be Amherst students...which is really the same thing. I'm not sure that the slight change in label will make all the networking you have made/will made for naught.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 12:30

Thanks for writing this article. While it is not perfect, it broaches a topic that many avoid for risk of slipping and sounding offensive. You approached it optimism and a rationality.

RationalGuy (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 12:31

This is possibly the only Amherst Student article I find reasonable. The rest are just bullshit. I agree, why would the mascot be a deer that happened to come across our campus for a couple hours? Moose are not even native to the region... Squirrels are here most of the time, why not just be the Amherst Squirrels?

Not RationalGuy (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 13:34

Nice try, Michael Johnson '16.

Dan Snyder (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 12:36

Thank you. You are so brave. This is very brave of you. Bravery is a very brave thing. Context is a brave thing, and invariably objective. In the context I've defined, and others must abide by because it is clearly objective, my team's name is not offensive. I don't mean to give offense, so I'm not giving any. Bravery. Should I trade RG3 or should I fire Gruden? Be brave.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 12:47

Typical amherst elitist at it again

Matt Virgilio (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 15:10

Thank you for your constructive comment. Your anonymity is quite brave!

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 15:15
Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 18:06

You go to Amherst. You are, by definition, an elite student. The privilege people like you speak of with such disdain? Yeah, you have it too. Why don't you go off into the sunset while holding hands with your quasi-intellectual liberal pals, because your whining is getting old.

Jeff (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 12:48

FYI, we gave the moose too much tranquilizer and it died later that day

John Stockman (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 14:25

I'm genuinely curious: do you have a source to back this claim? After a quick google search, I could only find stories of a moose tranquilized and killed in Amherst, Nova Scotia.

John (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 12:56

Amherst College was named after Amherst the town. Many towns in New England petitioned for the honor of having Jeffrey Amherst's name. Most residents of Amherst actually wanted the town named for Norwuttuck, a Native American tribe who resided here. A colonial governor overruled them. My point is that Amherst was never the intended name for the town. You're right, we should probably rename the college but it's taken us a long time to even consider a new mascot. The mascot should be changed and colleges should probably do away with varsity sports completely.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 13:38

Yes because all athletes are inherently elitist, racist, and evil..Nice little throw in in that comment attacking athletes. I would like to know what your "reasoning" is that varsity sports have no place in college. Get off your high horse.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 12/11/2014 - 00:31

You obviously are not an athlete. It is comments like yours that encourage division and hate. Don't be ignorant, it is not attractive.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 15:05

"and colleges should probably do away with varsity sports completely."

Yes and get rid of all fine arts programs, and all extra curriculars while were at it! Wouldn't want to be too well rounded...

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 12:59

Thank you for being brave enough to put your name on a strong opinion, Michael. Unfortunately, I don't find your argument especially convincing.
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[1] “Figures from history must be treated within the context of their time and circumstances. Yes, the mascot refers to Jeffery Amherst, and no one denies the fact that he treated Native Americans as enemies, which to Amherst is exactly what they were. It was during Pontiac’s Rebellion when Amherst used biological warfare against the Native Americans by way of blankets infected with smallpox. This is a fact, but we must take it with the proper perspective. Weapons of mass destruction were used by both sides in both World Wars, but we must recognize and understand that the generals in these wars were operating in a situation that had no morally correct solution. Furthermore, many of our greatest heroes, including the Founding Fathers, conducted themselves in ways that today would be considered abhorrent.”
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You make the point that it is difficult to hold historical figures to contemporary standards of right and wrong. That’s fine. Most of us are familiar with that general argument.
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You fail to explain, however, why that makes it ok to use such a figure as a mascot. It’s not hard to see how deciding to use someone like Lord Jeff as our competitive rallying symbol implies a certain endorsement of his historical actions. When we go into competition with Lord Jeff as a mascot, it creates an uncomfortable parallel with Lord Jeff’s violence against Native Americans, battles which included unambiguous crimes against humanity. If you look at older issues of The Student, you'll see writers deliberately borrowing the language of Lord Jeff's actions, talking about "putting a pox" on Williams and the like--the connection is there, and it has been repeatedly made in historical writing about athletics here.
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You’ll have to forgive me for going heavy-handed here, but to best illustrate why your argument for using a someone who committed (by today's standards) crimes against humanity as a mascot is unconvincing, I’ve reproduced your argument paragraph, but switched in circumstances of other people who we judged harshly by contemporary standards that did not exist in the same way during their time. Tell me if you find these paragraphs convincing:
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“Figures from history must be treated within the context of their time and circumstances. Yes, the mascot refers to Hitler, and no one denies the fact that he treated Jews as enemies, which to Hitler is exactly what they were. It was during the Holocaust when Hitler enacted a genocide against Jews by way of concentration camps and other methods. This is a fact, but we must take it with the proper perspective. Both sides killed innocent people during the Second World War, but we must recognize and understand that the leaders in these wars were operating in a situation that had no morally correct solution. Furthermore, many of our greatest heroes, including the Founding Fathers, conducted themselves in ways that today would be considered abhorrent.”
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“Figures from history must be treated within the context of their time and circumstances. Yes, the mascot refers to Governor George Wallace, and no one denies the fact that he treated African-Americans as enemies, which to Wallace is exactly what they were. It was during the desegregation of University Alabama when Wallace used blatantly racist tactics against the African-American students by way of blocking the entrance to the school. This is a fact, but we must take it with the proper perspective. Racism was more pervasive in the United States in the 1960s, but we must recognize and understand that the governors in these states were operating in a situation that had no morally correct solution. Furthermore, many of our greatest heroes, including the Founding Fathers, conducted themselves in ways that today would be considered abhorrent.
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To be clear, I’m in no way trying to suggest you support either of these evil men, and I’m not trying to create a hierarchy of historical evil or equate different instances of historical violence and hatred. What I’m trying to show is that your argument does not effectively connect your first point and your conclusion, a discrepancy which becomes apparent when you apply the same logic to different people.
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1) It is difficult to judge historical figures by contemporary standards
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2) ???
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3) It is acceptable to use figures who committed crimes against humanity as our mascots
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It’s true that we, as Americans, use historically questionable figures all the time. That’s true. That doesn’t invalidate the desire to change the mascot, however. We have it in our power to make a change, however small, in our community. There’s still meaning in that action, even if it means that slave-owners still appear on our currency. To suggest otherwise seems pretty defeatist. Changing the mascot is merely a single step in the right direction. No one is suggesting otherwise.
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[2] “Far more meaningful activities are things like the Admissions Office inviting Native Americans to the Diversity Open House and spending extra time with them, in an effort to increase the amount of Native American applications sent to the college.”
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This is simply a false dichotomy. We can do both. We can change the mascot and bring more Native American students to DIVOH.
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You should also consider, however, how retaining a genocidal mascot might just discourage Native American students from applying in the first place, even if we increase recruitment efforts as you suggest. In particular, can you imagine being a prospective Native American athlete looking at Amherst? Do you think he or she would be as supportive of the mascot as other student-athletes? Isn’t removing someone who used biological weapons against Native Americans a “meaningful” strategy for making Native Americans feel more welcome here?
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[3] “Ask student-athletes if they want their team mascot to be the Moose and you will hear a resounding no. The students pushing this change are not the ones who would walk out onto the court, field, or pitch with “MOOSE” in big letters across their chest.”
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I know student-athletes who are in support of the change. There is no way that the entire student-athlete community has rallied unanimously around keeping Lord Jeff. Also, you fail to mention that we already have teams on this campus who have adopted alternative mascots to the Jeff. Have you talked to those teams? Are those student-athletes against changing Lord Jeff too?
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I feel the need to point out that suggesting the Moose is unappealing is not an effective argument for keeping Lord Jeff.
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More importantly, I think it’s really damaging how you’ve decided to frame this as a athlete / non-athlete divide issue. You seem to suggest that the Moose movement is the product of a bunch of nerds attempting to take away student-athletes’ beloved mascot, an attitude better reflected in the next statement:
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[4] “The Moose sounds more like the mascot of a created team in a video game than a prestigious institution.”
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Again, I’m struggling not to feel like your reference to a “video game” is meant to emphasize that you see the Moose as some a non-athlete nerd movement. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, however, because I want to assume best intentions here.
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I want to highlight, however, that NESCAC is full of odd animal “video game” mascots, making your assertion that the Moose is inappropriate pretty lackluster.
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Polar Bears--Bowdoin
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Camels--Connecticut College
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Bobcats--Bates
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White Mules--Colby
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Panthers--Middlebury
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Bantams (Roosters)--Trinity
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Jumbos (Elephants)--Tufts
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Cardinals--Wesleyan
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[4] “When I think of a Lord Jeff, I don’t think of Lord Jeffery Amherst. I think of excellence, in the humanities, science, music, theater, art and athletics. I think of all the past alumni and administrators that worked to make Amherst the great place it is today. I think of sporting events and orchestra concerts, late nights in Frost and football practice. And I think of all the students of Amherst, some of whom will be groomsmen in my wedding, and godfathers to my children. The mascot Lord Jeffs provides a common ground for all of us with past and future generations of Amherst students. Changing the mascot loses this connection. They were Lord Jeffs. We are Lord Jeffs.”
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You can have all of those things without keeping Lord Jeff. What connects us is our experience here, not the name of our mascot. Changing it wont make your friends disappear or the knowledge you gained here evaporate. What it will do, however, is make this place more comfortable for segments of society who have been historically minimized and excluded. It reflects our abiding desire to never accept things as they are, to always push, in ways however small, for a more just world. Don’t you want everyone to have the same opportunity to have as amazing an experience here as you did? If what you value is that experience, the change should be a no-brainer.
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Michael, I really appreciate your willingness to articulate your thoughts here and contribute to our campus dialogue. I disagree pretty seriously with most of what you’ve said, but I don’t feel like your coming from a place of malevolence or hate.
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Still, there's one passage in your piece that strikes me as pretty fucked up.
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[5] “ It seems like everyone needs to be protesting something at all times. Let’s take a step back and really think about the things we are supporting.”
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I’m going to close by asking you to take a moment to think about the things students have most seriously protested here in recent memory.
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When over 500 students, faculty, staff, including our president protesting the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others, I did not think "It seems like everyone needs to be protesting something at all times."
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When students organized a vigil for the 43 missing innocent Mexican students, who have almost certainly been executed, I did not think "It seems like everyone needs to be protesting something at all times."
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When students marched to the Board of Trustees to demand that the college start treating survivors of sexual assault like human beings, I did not think "It seems like everyone needs to be protesting something at all times."
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I think a lot about what I'm supporting, Mike. I think you might benefit from doing the same.
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And remember:
We didn't choose the moose.
The moose chose us.
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This school belongs to all of us.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 13:13

YAAAAAASSSSSS to all of this, I'm glad to see a respectful, informative response to an article I very much disagree with.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 13:22
Gaby Mayer (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 13:38

Thank you for writing this. You hit everything on the nose, while simultaneously remaining respectful. Great job.

Jayson Paul (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 14:05

I don't need to say anything else, because you've said it all in a respectful, logical way. :) Here, here!

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 14:15

For those who don't know some of the athletic teams who adopted alternative names:

Volleyball: The Firedogs
Water-Polo: The Yo-Ho Penguins
(in addition, the swim team also mildly associates with the Yo-Ho Penguins as well)
Women's Rugby: Amherst
(the team does not feel comfortable associating themselves with Lord Jeff, so they have adopted no mascot; instead, they have chosen to represent the school)

Alumna (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 14:44
Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 15:14

We didn't choose the moose.
The moose chose us.
And everyone told it to go away.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 16:10

This is PERFECT. Thumbs up.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 16:36

Far better written than the original article itself. Excellent. I don't think I've seen anyone so verbally thrashed in quite a while.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 16:36

Polar bears, the most carnivorous member of the bear family, have hunted down and murdered seals for roughly 100,000 years. This is unacceptable. If we change our mascot, Bowdoin must follow suit! #stopthepolarbears

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 18:08

This comment is racist.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 13:10

"I think a lot about what I'm supporting, Mike. I think you might benefit from doing the same."

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