Explaining the Mascot Debate
Issue   |   Fri, 10/23/2015 - 13:23
Image coutesy of Amherst College Archives and Special Collections

Who was Lord Jeffery Amherst?

Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst of Montreal, is best known for his role as commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America during the French and Indian War. According to the Jeffery Amherst Collection in the Five College Archives, Amherst was born in Kent, England in 1717, and joined the British army in 1735. He fought the French in Europe during the Seven Years’ War in 1956 as a soldier, and again in North America during the French and Indian war from 1756 to 1763 as commander of 11,000 British soldiers. Along with Quebec City and Louisburg, Amherst’s most well-known victory was the conquest of Montreal, for which he was knighted and given the Order of Bath. Many of his military successes in North America owed to his expertise in military logistics in a land completely foreign to him upon his arrival as a British commander, according to American studies and history professor Kevin Sweeney in “The Very Model of a Modern Major General” in the 2008 Fall issue of the Amherst Magazine.

Amherst was the first British Governor General in what would eventually become Canada, and also served as nominal governor of Virginia. He declined the post of commander of British forces during the American Revolutionary War, though he played a part as an adviser and commander of forces in England. He was recalled to active duty in 1792 at the age of 76, and died in 1797.

The Town of Amherst is named after Lord Jeffery Amherst, and Amherst College is named for the town.

Why is he controversial?

While the British held control over parts of North America, including parts of today’s Canada and northern U.S., Native American attacks threatened their control. According to Sweeney, Lord Jeffery Amherst was already negatively inclined toward Native Americans, seeing them as less-than-valuable allies during the French and Indian War, and his attitude led to a decline in the alliance between his troops and the Native Americans.

According to Michael Kelly, Head of Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College, after the French and Indian War, Amherst saw no more need for an alliance with the Native Americans because the French had been defeated. At the same time, his superiors in England ordered him to cut costs. Amherst decided to stop distributing gifts to the Native Americans and instead adopt more punitive measures for failure to cooperate with the British soldiers, even though other British officers advised him otherwise.

“When Men of What race soever, behave ill they must be punished but not bribed,” Amherst wrote to major-general and superintendent of Indian affairs Sir William Johnson in 1761, who had warned Amherst that without continued gift exchange, good relations with the Native population could not exist.

This cessation of diplomatic bartering, along with the British army going back on its word to vacate its forts near the Great Lakes after the French were defeated, led to a new surge of Native American attacks against colonists on the Western frontier in 1763.

In late June, Amherst brought up the idea of introducing the deadly disease smallpox to Native Americans using blankets infected with the virus to Colonel Henry Bouquet. “You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blankets, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race,” Amherst wrote. There is no evidence that Amherst commanded the distribution of such blankets or went beyond advocating such a course of action.

Native American tribes near the Great Lakes continued to resist British rule, leading to Pontiac’s Rebellion. Amherst’s control over areas of the western frontier degraded quickly, and he was recalled to England.

Is the Jeff Amherst's official mascot?

There has been no evidence of the Lord Jeff being instated as Amherst College’s official mascot. According to George Rugg Cutting’s 1871 book “Student Life at Amherst College,” students voted to change Amherst’s colors from mauve and white to purple and white in 1868. But there has never been an official procedure for instituting a mascot.

When did the Jeff become Amherst’s mascot?

The idea of Lord Jeffery Amherst being a mascot for the college began with a song. In 1905, James Shelley Hamilton, a 1906 graduate and a member of Glee Club, wrote a song titled “Lord Jeffery Amherst.”

“Oh, Lord Jeffery Amherst was a soldier of the King, and he came from across the sea,” read part of the lyrics. “To the Frenchman and the Indians, he didn’t do a thing, In the wilds of this wild country.”

The song was included in the Glee Club program, and added to the Amherst College Songbook in 1906.

“The whole thing had been frivolously conceived and carelessly done, without any reference to historical justification or fact and even with Jeffery’s name mis-spelled,” Hamilton wrote, in a letter from 1934 held in the Archives and Special Collections. He explained that he wanted Amherst College’s Glee Club to have something “a bit gay” to sing, similar to songs about John Harvard or Ephraim Williams at those respective schools.

In 1913, Amherst College alumni attempted to erect a statue of Lord Jeffery Amherst on campus.

The U.S. and England enjoyed good relations in the 1920s, resulting in a wave of Anglophilia in the States. In Amherst town, a hotel — the Lord Jeffery Inn on Boltwood Ave. — was named for the commander. On campus, more students embraced the song “Lord Jeffery Amherst,” which became the first song in the college songbook in 1926. A student-run publication, the Lord Jeff, was started in June 1920 and ran until 1935. It was a humorous and lighthearted publication which frequently depicted cartoonish caricatures of Lord Amherst on its cover. During World War II, The Amherst Student stopped publication, and its temporary replacement was a four-page paper called The Jeff, which was much shorter due to a paper shortage. The Jeff ran until the end of the war, and The Amherst Student resumed.

What is the history behind the Lord Jeff and Amherst athletics?

The Lord Jeff has often been portrayed on the college’s athletic flyers and bulletins for decades. It is unknown when the Lord Jeff was first linked with sports, but the Jeff was consistently associated with the college’s sports teams in the 1920s, particularly when the magazine Lord Jeff would feature illustrations and caricatures of Lord Jeffery Amherst with a football, with a cow representing Williams College, or on Pratt Field. Sports teams were referred to as the Jeffs beginning in the 1930s and 1940s. Archives of The Amherst Student dating at least as far back as 1931 include references to Amherst teams as the Jeffs. Prior to that, they had simply been known by the college’s name — for example, the baseball team was referred to as “The Amherst Nine” in 1885 by the Harvard Crimson.

What arguments have been made in favor of keeping Lord Jeff?

Those who have argued in favor of the Lord Jeff have said that the Lord Jeff is one of the college’s few historical traditions, and therefore serves too important a role in the community to be removed.

“I think Amherst is already a place that lacks tradition and identity, and the traditions that remain here are dying out quickly. Most of the old traditions (the school song, etc.) have already been eradicated, and I think that getting rid of the Lord Jeff as our mascot would be another step towards dissociating from our school’s great history,” Tom Sommers ’16 said in an interview earlier this year.

Others have said that the Lord Jeff has taken on a life of its own as the mascot, and now reflects values of the college community more than it reflects the historical figure Lord Jeffery Amherst.

“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,” Michael Johnson ’16 wrote in a sports column for The Student last year. “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.”

At the Association of Amherst Students senate meeting on Oct. 5 at which the AAS officially took a stance against the Lord Jeff, some senators expressed concerns that the current student body would fail to accurately represent the opinions of Amherst’s alumni, many of whom have been vocal about their support for the Lord Jeff.

What arguments have been made against keeping the Jeff?

Those who propose changing the mascot have argued that Jeffery Amherst advocated genocide against Native Americans, and that the college should not associate itself with this legacy.

“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,” said Michael Kelly, head of Frost Library’s Archives and Special Collections.

Another argument is that the Jeff alienates students of Native American descent, whether they be current members of the community or prospective applicants.

“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,” said Katie Fretwell ’81, dean of admission and financial aid.

Kelly noted that some advocates of keeping the Jeff have pointed out that there is currently no serious movement to change the name of the college or the town. But he said this is not a reason to avoid changing the mascot.

“There’s the argument that, well, if we change the mascot, then we have to change the name of the college, then we have to change the name of the town — the slippery slope argument, which is a logical fallacy,” Kelly said.

Who has taken a stance on the issue? Who hasn’t?

President Biddy Martin has held small open discussions about the mascot, but has not released an official statement for or against either the Jeff or the Moose. “We may need to design a process for discussion of the proposal. Because the current mascot was never formally adopted by the college, there is no clear mechanism for re-considering it,” she said in an email interview last semester.

The Association of Amherst Students senate voted on Oct. 5 to publish a letter officially announcing its stance against the Jeff. “Asking our peers, some of whom identify as Native American, to rally around a mascot who advocated the genocide of an entire nation of peoples is not something we can do,” the letter says. “In continuing to support the Lord Jeff as the college’s mascot we risk alienating members of the student body who do not feel as though they can, in good conscience, endorse him.”

E.J. Mills, head football coach, said in an interview last semester, “I want to make sure everyone feels welcome, and everyone feels valued. So, if our mascot right now is alienating students, then I would advocate that we really think about making a change … Would I advocate to become the Moose? I would not jump on that bandwagon.”

Have other colleges changed their mascots?

According to the official website of Dartmouth College’s athletic department, Dartmouth’s sports teams are unofficially nicknamed the Big Green, a name that originated among the student body at the college’s first baseball game, when green was adopted as the college’s color. The Indian became their unofficial mascot in the 1920s, when it became ubiquitously used by local sportswriters. The college used that mascot until 1972, when a controversy over the mascot among the student body prompted an ad hoc mascot committee on the Dartmouth Alumni Council to issue a statement discouraging the use of the Indian on campus and at sports games. In 1974, Dartmouth’s board of trustees issued an official statement in which they said that they found “use of the (Indian) symbol in any form to be inconsistent with present institutional and academic objectives of the College in advancing Native American education.” After this statement, the Indian was considered discontinued as a mascot, although it was never officially removed. There have been several student referenda to adopt new mascots, including the moose, but none have passed. Dartmouth continues to use the Big Green as the nickname for its sports teams.

Stanford University officially adopted the nickname of Indians in 1930, after a unanimous vote by the Executive Committee for the Associated Students, Stanford’s student government. The Indian had been used commonly on campus before the vote. The mascot was used until 1972, when a group of Native American students lobbied the university’s president, Richard Lyman, to take action against it. That year, the Stanford Student Senate voted 18-4 to remove the mascot. There were student referenda to reinstate the Indian and select other mascots including the griffin, but from 1972 to 1981, Cardinal was the unofficial nickname of athletics at the university. In 1981, president Donald Kennedy released a statement that declared Cardinal the official nickname for all athletic teams at Stanford.

Neither Dartmouth nor Stanford have official mascots. At Dartmouth, Keggy the Keg, an unofficial mascot adopted by the student body in 2003, appears at sports events, while at Stanford, the Tree both represents the marching band and attends major games.

What is the procedure for removing or instituting a mascot?

Amherst College has no established procedure of removing a mascot or instituting a new mascot. Thus far, there has been no suggested means by which the college would officially remove the Jeff or institute a new mascot, mainly due to the unofficial status of the Lord Jeff.

Has other discussion occurred at Amherst?

Archives and Special Collections have found no evidence of student polls or referenda about the mascot in the history of the college. The use of the Lord Jeff began informally in 1905 and expanded over the following decades, without formal college-wide discussions.

What is happening next with the mascot debate?

The Association of Amherst Students has publicly announced its intention to hold a poll at the end of this semester on whether to officially remove the Lord Jeff as the mascot. The senate has also invited members of the campus community to its meeting on Oct. 26 for a campus-wide discussion of the mascot.

Anchor
Comments
Glenn Arthur Pierce (not verified) says:
Mon, 10/26/2015 - 09:26

As an author and blogger solely on the subject of college and pro team mascots and nicknames, I rarely see an article in a college newspaper that gets it as right as the 23 October story by Dan Ahn and Jingwen Zhang ("Explaining the Mascot Debate"). The writers fully appreciate the non-official nature of such monikers as "Lord Jeffs" or "Tigers" or "Crimson." In fact, any "official nickname" is no nickname at all; by definition, the nickname can only be a casual alternate to a more formal or legal (i.e., "official") name.
The article even noted that the baseball team "had simply been known by the college’s name ... The Amherst Nine." I specifically called out those colleges (unlike Amherst) who insist their former nickname for baseballers was "The Nine" or footballers "The Eleven" here: https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/9225649-the-once-and-never-n...
Be aware that the 1957 Williams Record tries to feminize Amherst athletes (I assume footballers) by calling them the "Sabrinas," which is what happens among rivals. (See https://archive.org/stream/thewilliamsrecord_vol71/thewilliamsrecord_vol...) That, however, should not be quickly dismissed. The director of the Amherst College Press (Walter A. Dyer) offers "Sabrinas" as an Amherst nickname on par with “Lord Jeffs” in a standard reference on early twentieth century nicknames. See "Amherst College" in George Earlie Shankle, American Nicknames (1955, p. 12). (I can provide a screenshot that readily shows this in the hard-to-find volume.)
Cheers.
Glenn Arthur Pierce
Author of Naming Rites: A Biographical History of North American Team Names

Sam Mawn-Mahlau '83 (not verified) says:
Sun, 11/01/2015 - 13:12

It's great to see a move to replace Lord Jeff. Let's face it, he was a lousy mascot thirty years ago and is a lousy mascot today, and shows a growing understanding of history to nix the nobleman.

Robert Collier '83 (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/13/2015 - 14:53

Amherst College has many wonderful traditions, among others the pursuit of excellence. But why gratuitously offend an entire group of people? By any standard, Lord Jeff deserves no admiration whatsoever. Anyone who harbors even a shred of nostalgia for Lord Jeff as a person should read his Wikipedia entry. He was a leader of the British empire's war machine against Natives and American revolutionaries alike, and was described by one British politician as "that log of wood whose stupidity and incapacity are past belief." Get rid of the mascot. Changing the name of the college isn't realistic, but ditching the mascot is an easy fix.

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