Group of Athletes Campaigns for Mascot Change
Issue   |   Mon, 11/16/2015 - 23:04
Sarah Felleman '17

This weekend a group called Amherst Athletes Against Lord Jeff began campaigning for the removal of the college’s unofficial mascot, the Lord Jeff. The group formed during a four-day sit-in in Frost Library this weekend in which students protested racial discrimination.

On Saturday night, the third night of the sit-in, various students broke into subcommittees to discuss the issues raised by the weekend’s events. Cross country runner Justin Barry ’18 was with the subcommittee talking specifically about the mascot, and he began thinking of ways to raise publicity.

“I talked to Brianna Cook [’16], Harrison Haigood [’18] and Annie Apffel [’17] and started thinking about ways to make it work,” Barry said. “On Sunday morning we finalized the idea of taking a big picture and encouraging each team to take similar pictures.”

After collaborative efforts, students from 24 teams, both club and varsity, gathered outside of Frost library for a group photo to show their opposition to the mascot with which all teams are unofficially associated.

“It’s amazing how in a matter of four hours how we can get hundreds of athletes to come together and stand behind this,” Haigood said.

Part of the aim of the campaign was associating faces with the message. Barry said that the idea for the posters originated after students saw that posters advocating for a mascot change had been torn down. Barry said the group hoped people would be less likely to take down a poster with a peer’s face on it.

“Throughout the weekend people were saying, ‘where are the athletes in this conversation?’ and I did see people on teams [at the sit-in] but not necessarily speaking out as much,” Barry said. “This is a way to make a more public statement, and engage more people.”

“I was thinking ‘how could I affect change in this movement? How could I influence this movement?’” Apffel said. “As a varsity athlete, I thought engaging the mascot debate was the best way to get involved. I thought this was best way to show support.”

“I knew that there were some athletes who supported changing it even though there’s a vocal group in support of the Jeff,” Apffel added. “There was a sort of domino effect. When we saw one person on the team doing the photo, it became OK for others to do it.”

With the movement in progress, many athletes felt it was their opportunity to voice their opposition Amherst’s unofficial mascot. “At first, I thought Lord Jeff was fictional,” said track team member Mohamed Ramy ’18. “After learning about his history, horror struck me.”

Barry said he was motivated by a concern that many students feel marginalized by the choice of Lord Jeffery Amherst as a mascot. Proponents of changing the mascot have argued that the Lord Jeff should not represent the college because Lord Jeffery Amherst advocated giving blankets infected with smallpox to Native Americans. But others have argued that the Lord Jeff should stay because it is an Amherst tradition.

“If one person feels that way, then there should be a movement to change it. The vote tomorrow is to keep or remove the Jeff. There’s no suggested mascot, keep or remove. Administration and faculty would need to see a strong student support, and since the mascot came for the students, it should go with the students,” Barry said.

On Tuesday, the AAS will hold a college-wide poll for students to vote on whether they think Lord Jeff should be removed as Amherst’s mascot.