College Mascot Divides Campus
Issue   |   Wed, 02/25/2015 - 01:14

Discussions over the college’s mascot continued this week, as a group of students held a Lord Jeff Information Day, and President Biddy Martin shared her views on the mascot controversy in an interview with The Amherst Student.

The Lord Jeff Information Day was held on Thursday, Feb. 19. A group of students set up informational tables in Keefe Campus Center and held a special exhibit in Frost Library’s Archives and Special Collections. The events were intended to provide historical information on Lord Jeffery Amherst. They were sponsored by the Campus Activities Board, the college’s American Studies Department and Student Activities. Adrian Chan ’17 was the main organizer.

The information table at Keefe, which was open during lunch Thursday, offered a quiz about Lord Jeffery Amherst and a chance to enter a raffle for free T-shirts. Later in the afternoon, the exhibit in Frost Special Archives and Collections displayed maps, letters and images of Lord Jeffery Amherst.

“I think an understanding of who the historic figure of Lord Jeffery Amherst was [and] is essential to any discussion of the mascot,” said Mike Kelly, the head of Special Archives.

The controversy over the status of the college’s mascot has grown in recent months as students have debated over proposals to change the mascot. Many oppose keeping the Lord Jeff because Lord Jeffery Amherst is known for advocating genocide against Native Americans.

Some students, however, support keeping the current unofficial mascot in place.

“I understand that Lord Jeffery Amherst, as a historical figure, might be an affiliation that some would take offense to. 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,” Tom Sommers ’16 said.

Some students proposed changing Amherst’s mascot to the moose after a moose appeared on campus last spring during finals week. Since then, some students have expressed their support for the moose by making T-shirts and a Facebook page, and orchestrating pro-moose pranks on campus.

AAS Senator Olivia Pinney ’17 cited her experience as an athlete as one reason why she now supports the moose.

“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.”

The mascot has also proved to be a controversial issue among alumni. One alumnus, Jonathan Salik ’09, said he opposes changing the mascot because of the educational value of Lord Jeffery Amherst’s historical complexity.

“While [Amherst’s] feelings towards Native Americans were undoubtedly motivated in part by his feelings of racial superiority, they were also motivated by his desire to protect his country and his people,” Salik said. “I think there is inherent value in having this conversation. It stimulates discussion and awareness of our ancestors’ hatred towards the Native Americans, and it fosters a continually renewed appreciation for the hardships and incredible difficulties that they had to overcome.”

Other members of the community, such as E.J. Mills, head coach of the varsity football team, have expressed concerns about both the Jeff and the moose as the college’s mascot.

“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. And yet I understand that there’s always two sides to every issue, and I think it’s important that we hear both sides,” Mills said. “Would I advocate to become the moose? I would not jump on that bandwagon.”

So far, no segment of the Amherst administration has taken an official stance on the matter. Dean of Students Alex Vasquez urged students to remain respectful and engage in open discussion, noting the harsh responses to Michael Johnson ’16’s recent pro-Jeff op-ed in The Amherst Student.

“The community responded really aggressively to that argument, that ‘We Are the Lord Jeffs,’ which was one student’s opinion,” Vasquez said.

In a recent email interview with The Amherst Student, President Biddy Martin shared her thoughts on the current status of the mascot controversy. When asked about her stance on the proposed mascot change, Martin said, “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.”

Martin said that at the moment, college administration has 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.”

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/25/2015 - 11:16

"our ancestors’ hatred towards the Native Americans." Is he speaking for Amherst students here? Because we're not all white, and not all of our ancestors hated Native Americans.

Alumnus (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/25/2015 - 21:31

Could you please flip the apostrophes around on the class years (four of the five, all but Ms. Pinney)? As to the faux controversy: there are so many pressing issues today -- unconstitutional surveillance of all Americans, torturers and war criminals walking free on our soil, police brutality, etc., etc. -- that Amherst students' time would be much better spent addressing the here and now than a man who died a few hundred years ago. Were the college glorifying LJA in some way, maybe offense could or should be taken, but all I've ever seen of LJA is the mascot walking around at football games, and in that context he's anything but glorified.

tom hanford '62 (not verified) says:
Sat, 02/28/2015 - 21:30

there are about 20,000 alumni and roughly 1700 students in any given year.
changes to Lord Jeff should formally involve alumni as well as current undergraduates

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Sat, 03/07/2015 - 17:49

Does anyone think that by supporting a mascot the College or any of its sports teams or students support genocide? Right. Stop wasting time with more political correctness and move on to something that matters.

Jeff Ferreira 85 (not verified) says:
Sun, 04/12/2015 - 17:49

I know I am weighing in late on this topic, but there must be more pressing, relevant issues that could be debated than this. I do believe that anyone who has sent in an application certainly knew beforehand whom the college was named after and had as a "mascot', unofficial or not.