Amherst searches for replacement mascot in light of Jeff controversy

Graphic by Hannah Roach '17

Graphic by Hannah Roach '17

BY ABBY BAKER '19

Recent student protests at Amherst College over Lord Jeffery Amherst’s controversial legacy have yielded results; the College will accept suggestions for a new school mascot through Nov. 30. 

Lord Jeffery Amherst, the 18th-century British army commander who reportedly condoned the deliberate spread of smallpox among Native Americans, is the namesake of the town of Amherst, as well as Amherst College. Lord Jeff, as he has been affectionately abbreviated, is also the unofficial mascot of Amherst College. 

Though the Lord Jeff mascot is technically unofficial, Amherst College employs his image on official publications, and the college’s hotel is named the Lord Jeffery Inn. 

Students, alumni, faculty members and staff members of Amherst College are welcome to submit proposals for the new mascot. A committee of alumni, student leaders and faculty will consider the submissions and select five finalists. Amherst alumni, students, faculty and staff will then vote on the five finalists this March, and a new mascot will be announced later in the spring. 

In a statement from the board of trustees of Amherst College on Jan. 26, 2016, Cullen Murphy, the Chair of the Board, wrote, “The aim will be to generate as much engagement as possible, and to find something — something organically associated with Amherst, reflecting our collective history — that we can all rally around. That is what mascots are supposed to provide.”

The committee will select finalists based on numerous criteria, including the representation of positive qualities and ideals, broad relevance to the Amherst community, students and alumni as well as the visual and aesthetic qualities of the mascot. 

Of course, the town of Amherst, as well as the College, is named for Lord Jeffery Amherst. Mount Holyoke sophomore Victoria Parrish ’19 noted that, while she supports the change of mascot, changing the town or school name would pose a daunting task. “Amherst is not a new town, and people know Amherst. It has a brand to it. It would be hard to change because it’s such a well-established town,” she said. 

Murphy also asserted in his statement the importance of maintaining the freedom of speech. “Beyond that, people will do as they will: the College has no business interfering with free expression, whether spoken or written or, for that matter, sung. Period. We hope and anticipate that understanding and respect will run in all directions,” he wrote. 

Other institutions have been confronted with similar issues. Georgetown University renamed two buildings named for school presidents with ties to slavery, according to the Washington Post. Stanford students demanded the renaming of buildings named for Junipero Serra, a priest who was involved in the oppression of Native Americans, according to The Stanford Daily. The Washington Post also reported that Princeton students advocated for the renaming of their School of Public and International Affairs, a school originally named for Woodrow Wilson, who segregated multiple agencies within the federal government and was an advocate for the Ku Klux Klan. 

Murphy added, “The controversy over the mascot may seem small in itself and yet, in many minds, it’s symbolic of larger issues.”

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