November 6, 2015
Amherst debates political correctness of mascot, Lord Jeffrey Amherst
Lord Jeffrey Amherst, the unofficial Amherst College mascot, has recently come under fire by students and faculty for his purported views on American Indians. Some have called for Amherst faculty to renounce Lord Jeff as the college mascot, while others have begun campaigns to change the mascot to another figure. This controversy has forced Amherst to begin a conversation on the schools’ identity, which has changed significantly since it made changes to its admissions policy in the 1970s.
“The mascot is kind of stuck in those times, and hasn’t evolved with the student body,” said Virginia Hassell, a senior who is organizing the effort to make a change. “The fact that our mascot isolates people and makes anyone feel unwelcome is just unacceptable.”
Lord Jeffery Amherst was a revered 18th century British military commander who later went on to found the town for which Amherst College was named after. In the past few years, manuscripts written by Lord Jeff have resurfaced in which he endorses giving small pox blankets to local tribes. This has caused profound anger amongst many Amherst students who do not want their college to be associated with these views.
Micayla Tatum, a senior and the leader of the school’s Native American Students Organization, asserted that Lord Jeff was contrary to the school’s progressive culture. “We’re supposed to be the elite institution that’s ahead of the curve,” Ms. Tatum said later, “and right now we’re behind it.”
The debate over Lord Jeff was demonstrated at this year’s homecoming football game, when an Amherst student showed up wearing a moose costume. The moose costume has recently emerged as an alternative to the Lord Jeff one and has served as a rallying symbol to opponents of the current mascot. The moose’s arrival at the homecoming game elicited a mixed reaction from the crowd.
While some have supported the moose and other proposed alternatives, others view the movement away from Lord Jeff as misguided and unnecessary. “It’s about, to use a tired cliché, fashionable political correctness, largely uninformed by deep questioning of historical events or context,” said Paul Ruxin, a retired lawyer who graduated from Amherst in 1965.
Some students, however, believe that it is their duty to distance their school from the injustice supported by Lord Jeff. “We don’t as students have the ability to change our school name or our town name to eradicate the injustice that was inflicted by Lord Jeff,” said Gabriela Smith-Rosario ’18.