Mascot Change Petition Brought to President Martin
Issue   |   Wed, 05/06/2015 - 00:34

The college’s mascot debate entered a new phase last month when Adrian Chan ’17 brought a petition to change the mascot to President Biddy Martin and senior administrators. The petition included signatures of 480 students, faculty and staff. In an email to the signatories, Chan announced that “a website onto which students can upload alternative mascot designs will be set up by the end of the semester,” and suggested creating a schedule that would designate an official mascot by the end of the 2015-2016 academic year.

Some students proposed making the moose Amherst College’s mascot after a moose wandered onto campus last spring. This year, the moose has emerged as the most prominent alternative to the Lord Jeff. Chan, however, said that his proposed contest will search for a mascot that is “non-Jeff and non-moose.”

In an email interview, Dean of Students Alex Vasquez said he was “very supportive of the conversations surrounding the appropriateness of Lord Jeffery Amherst serving as a representative figure for the college.” Chan’s email to those who signed his petition stated that the administration is planning to implement a new mascot design contest in the very near future, and Vasquez suggested that such a contest would be only the beginning of a mascot selection process.

“With regard to an online design contest — if we make a decision as a community that we will choose a mascot different from [Lord Jeffery Amherst], then I would be very interested in hearing students’ ideas and perspectives,” Vasquez said. “I would not prefer that the contest be the final and determinant process for choosing a new mascot.”

Although the debate has intensified in recent years, Amherst’s mascot has been attracting controversy for decades. Around the time Amherst College began admitting women, discussion centered around what to call women’s sports teams. Olivia Pinney ’17, an AAS senator and member of the Traditions Committee, said “no team really liked” the idea of being called “Lady Jeffs.” Today, though, the bone of contention lies in how to deal with a mascot tainted by a historical association with biological warfare and genocide.

Activism for and against the Lord Jeff mascot has involved many student groups and members of the administration in recent years. In April 2013, AAS Senator Risalat Khan ’13 organized a town hall meeting concerning the college’s mascot. The meeting featured a presentation from College Head of Archives and Special Collections Michael Kelly, who offered a historical perspective on Lord Jeffery Amherst. This year, Chan organized a February “Lord Jeff Information Day,” which was sponsored by the Campus Activities Board. The information day event also relied on the content of the college archives and on Kelly, featuring a special exhibit in Archives and Special Collections.