Amherst Colleges settles on mammoth mascot

BY TESSA SCHWARZ '17 

Mammoths will be soon be stampeding into the Pioneer Valley, joining the Lyons, Pioneers and Minutemen. No, this isn’t a remake of the Wizard of Oz — Amherst College has announced that the Mammoth will be its new mascot.

Amherst made the announcement on April 3 after a lengthy process that began during the 2015-2016 school year, when calls for the removal of Lord Jeff, the college’s unofficial mascot at the time, began.

Lord Jeff was Amherst College’s unofficial mascot for approximately 100 years, according to the Amherst College website. Lord Jeffery Amherst, who also founded the town of Amherst, is known for arguing for an early form of biological warfare — giving blankets infected with smallpox to Native Americans. According to the New York Times, Amherst wrote in one 1763 letter, “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.”

Students began to demand the mascot’s removal during the 2015-2016 school year, decrying Lord Jeff as a symbol of racial oppression. According to the Boston Globe, 83 percent of Amherst students felt that Lord Jeff should be removed as a mascot.

The Amherst College board of trustees voted in January 2016 to remove Lord Jeff, and the replacement process began. The Amherst College Mascot Committee accepted submissions from current Amherst students and alumni through November 30, 2016, and in December narrowed down the 2,045 submissions to 30 semifinalists.

The semifinalists included the A’s, Aces, Amethysts, Beacons, Blaze, Dinosaurs, Falcons, Fighting Poets, Flame, Hamsters, Hawks, Irradients, Luminaries, Mammoths, Mastodons, Moose, Oaks, Octagons, Owls, Phoenixes, Poets, Pride, Purple, Purple & White, Purple Aces, Pur- ple Rays, Radiance, Rays, Valley Hawks and Wolves.

According to the Amherst College website, in February the Mascot Committee invited a selected group of 441 alumni and students to rate the semifinalists according to the submission criteria, as well as alumni feedback. The Mascot Committee then used these ratings to determine the top five candidates: the Fighting Poets, the Mammoths, the Purple & White, the Valley Hawks and the Wolves. 9,295 students, alumni, staff and faculty voted from March 20–31 on the finalists. Overall, 51.31 percent of the final vote was allocated to the Mammoths, followed closely by 48.69 percent for the Purple & White.

While mammoths were “impressive” and “near mythic” creatures, “Ice Age mammoths were also highly social, herbivorous animals,” says the Amherst College website. “The Beneski Museum of Natural History famously displays the skeleton of a Columbian mammoth, unearthed by professor Frederick Brewster Loomis and brought to the College in 1925. Amherst’s archives also house a drawing of a mammoth skeleton by scientific illustrator Orra White Hitchcock, wife of Amherst’s third president, the minister and geologist Edward Hitchcock.”

Unlike Lord Jeff, which was never Amherst’s official mascot, the Mammoth’s official status will allow it to be used on team apparel and college merchandise, according to the Boston Globe. “The development of the mascot logo will begin very soon,” says a statement on the website. “We hope it will be ready for a debut in the fall. Once that work is complete, the inclusion on athletics venues, uniforms and promotional materials will begin to take shape.”

In a statement on the Amherst College website, the Amherst Mascot Committee thanked the community for “the rich and plentiful contribution of mascot ideas, and for the enthusiastic voter participation.”

“Affection for Amherst and belief in what our College represents motivated our committee during this entire process,” the Committee wrote, “and we welcome the Mammoths as the new mascot for Amherst College.”

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