Committee Moves Forward with Mascot Discussion
Issue   |   Wed, 10/07/2015 - 01:45

Members of the student mascot committee said this week that they plan on taking steps toward holding a college-wide vote on whether or not to replace the Lord Jeff, the college’s current unofficial mascot. Committee members said they also plan to facilitate open discussions about the mascot in conjunction with the Association of Amherst Students.

The mascot committee, which is not part of the AAS, was formed informally over the past summer. Virginia Hassell ’16, a senator who had served on that committee throughout last year, decided to create a new group to focus specifically on the mascot. “I reached out to people who I knew were passionate about the issue,” Hassell said. “There were different groups that were pursuing the same goal, so now we’ve just united forces.”

Hassell said that the committee aims to hold a campus-wide vote at the end of this semester in which students can decide whether or not to “vacate the mascot.”

The AAS senate also announced its intention to hold such a vote, in a letter which Sam Keaser ‘17E, a member of the committee, presented to the senate on Oct. 5. All but four senators at the meeting voted to publish the letter, which also stated that the senate would take a formal stance against using the Lord Jeff as the college’s unofficial mascot.

Some senators opposed to the letter questioned whether the senate would be able to effectively facilitate conversations about the mascot if it had already taken a strong stance on the issue.

“Even if we hadn’t taken a stance, we would be bringing the exact same biases to the conversation, so I don’t think it’s really changing it hugely because of that,” Keaser said in an interview. “This may just be a more honest way to go about it.”

Hassell said that the mascot committee also hopes to encourage more open conversations about the mascot. “Right now, it’s difficult for us to even have a conversation about the mascot because people have become too sensitive, because the issue has become too hostile,” Hassell said.

Keaser said the AAS plans to invite students, faculty and staff to its meeting on Oct. 26 for an open discussion about the mascot. “I don’t really see another student body that could facilitate this conversation, and I would like to see it come from students, not from the faculty or the administration,” Keaser said.

The committee also plans to have a moose mascot at the homecoming football game and to develop moose souvenirs for sale on campus.

Hassell, who is also a senator, said these plans do not reflect the official stance of the AAS, and the mascot committee is promoting the moose because it is “clearly the frontrunner as a replacement for Lord Jeff.”

Hassell said that although a student-driven competition to choose a mascot was originally set to take place this semester, it was cancelled due to a lack of community feedback.

While the committee is working towards replacing the Lord Jeff as the mascot, the campus continues to be divided on keeping or replacing the unofficial mascot.

“I understand that Lord Jeffery Amherst, as a historical figure, might be an affiliation that some would take offense to,” Tom Sommers ’16 said. “However, I don’t see our mascot as a historical figure at all. I think of Lord Jeff as a representation of Amherst College. We have a unique mascot that ties together many students and alumni, and I see our mascot as just a mascot — nothing more.”

In contrast, Olivia Pinney ’17 cited her experience as an athlete on the women’s squash and club soccer teams as one factor in her support for the moose as a potential new mascot. “Lord Jeff undeniably has a place in the history our school, but he does very little for current students in terms of traditions,” Pinney said. “I’ve played on two different teams at Amherst, and I have never felt united with my teammates by the Lord Jeff. There are more clever things you can do with an animal mascot than you can do with a British lord.”

Hassell said that the mascot committee hopes to start conversations with members of the Athletic Department about Amherst’s mascot.

“I want to make sure everyone feels welcome, and everyone feels valued,” football coach E.J. Mills said in an interview last spring. “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. Would I advocate to become the Moose? I would not jump on that bandwagon.”

In an email interview with The Amherst Student last semester, President Biddy Martin shared her thoughts on the current status of the mascot controversy.

“We may need to design a process for discussion of the proposal,” Martin wrote. “Because the current mascot was never formally adopted by the college, there is no clear mechanism for re-considering it.”

Martin said that at the moment of the interview, college administration had not taken any action to foster dialogue on the mascot issue.

“Some students have taken the initiative to propose a new mascot and even cleverly to introduce the possibility of the moose at events and in various locations on campus,” Martin said. “It may well be time to have the administration help design a process for more formal discussion and decision-making. It is important to me to know that students on both sides of the question (of whether to change the mascot) would welcome a more formal process.”