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.