The Mascot That Amherst College Deserves
Issue   |   Tue, 01/23/2018 - 22:32

My apologies if any of this has been discuss already ad nauseam, but I came into the selection process for your new mascot quite late. I imagine that the issues regarding the previous ‘Lord & Lady Jeffs’ have been eloquently articulated, and given these concerns, I must admit there is a certain humor and irreverence to choosing the Mammoth as an alternative. I am sure the irony of a mascot that epitomizes something that is enormous, hairy, lumbering and extinct to represent a small, dynamic, adaptable, thriving liberal arts college is perfectly clear to everyone.

This is not to say that there isn’t a certain understandable attraction to the loveable Mammoth. The Department of Earth Science at Santa Barbara City College adopted ‘Wooly’ as their mascot quite some time ago. He adorns all the department t-shirts and is a reflection not only of the abundant Pleistocene-age fossils in the region (think La Brea tarpits), but also the acknowledged contributions to Pleistocene paleontology the department has made, like its interest in one of the most famous once-living oxymoron, the Pygmy Mammoth.

My concern is whether future generations of Amherst students and alumni will continue to feel the same way as you currently do and appreciate the logic and humor of this choice. Although they also would be free to change the mascot, given the many alternatives from which to choose, it might have been wise to consider a mascot that offers a more enduring acceptance and legacy rather than the ever-engaging woolly mammoth.

One possibility, given the previous concerns with Lord Jeff, could have been to adopt a totem in honor and respect of a local Native American tribe. The principal tribe that inhabited the upper Connecticut River Valley around Amherst was the Pocumtec, a sub-tribe of the Mohicans. Although it is not appropriate or permissible to use tribal names as a mascot, using a native totem might be considered suitable and proper amends in this regard. For example, favorite mythological figures of the Mohicans included ‘Moskim’, a benevolent and somewhat foolish rabbit, and “pukwudgies”, a magical little people, mischievous but benign, somewhat similar to the familiar Irish leprechauns. The busy beaver mascot of MIT becomes “amusk” or “amisque”, eagle becomes “migisso” and fox becomes “waugoosus.” A thoughtful discussion with local tribal leaders and a careful consideration of their language and word connotations may well reveal a perfectly unique and suitable name that Amherst might have been able to adopt.

There are also a number of other animal alternatives besides the woolly mammoth that could have offered Amherst students a whole range of attributes for which they could be justly proud. The attributes of the beaver, elk, eagle, falcon, wolf and wolverine come to mind, which is why many schools have adopted these as mascots.

My preference for a more suitable Amherst mascot is the peregrine falcon. The peregrine is small, as is Amherst. The peregrine is the fastest animal on Earth. Its stoop hunting dive has been clocked at over 240 mph. It is thus fast, nimble, flies high and is known to attack from unexpected quarters. The peregrine’s vision is unusually far-sighted, not myopic as is believed to be the mammoth’s. Peregrines are found in almost all terrains from the arctic tundra to the tropics, as are Amherst students and alumni. The peregrine has strong hunting abilities and can be fiercely independent, but also highly trained and versatile — all attributes that I would think most Amherst students would be proud to emulate. The peregrine is distinctly different from other generic hawks, falcons or eagles, as Amherst is distinctly different from other eastern schools. Most peregrines have a distinctive dark blue and white coloring that under certain lighting conditions or with a little artistic license can easily become the purple and white of Amherst.

Compare these attributes of a fierce, independent, living peregrine with the typical attributes of a big, enormous, lumbering, extinct, woolly mammoth that most often follows the herd. I always thought of Amherst graduates as leaders, not followers. In addition, the mammoth was never a hunter. Would you rather be a hunter or the hunted?

Regardless, we all know that adopting a mascot is not the most serious decision we can make and one that should be made in all good humor and fun. To the extent though that the choice can equally reflect a measure of school pride, inspiration, and worthy ambition, it seems to me, a living purple and white Amherst Peregrine would seem to have a bit more charm and endearing qualities than an extinct Amherst Mammoth.