Amherst College has announced it will abandon its unofficial mascot – named after a controversial British general in the French and Indian War.
While the elite liberal arts college is named after the town of Amherst, the town is named after Lord Jeffery Amherst – who, in 1763, called for giving smallpox infected blankets to Native Americans.
Students and faculty at the college have debated for years whether to stop using a mascot – known as the Lord Jeff — for sports teams and other business.
“That mascot and that name have always been profoundly offensive,” says Barry O’Connell, an English professor.
O’Connell took part in a unanimous faculty vote in November to abandon the mascot. And while he says the college has made significant progress recruiting students of color.
“Symbols aren’t just empty,” O’Connell says. “They mean something, especially when they’re taken for granted.”
Removal of the mascot was a key demand in a three-day student sit-in for better diversity policies last fall. And a November poll found 83 percent of students wanted the mascot gone.
This week, the college trustees publicly agreed. In a long letter to the campus community, Chairman Cullen Murphy wrote that the mascot is “driving people apart,” so the college will not use the Lord Jeff in any official communications.
Sophomore Sydney Tate says it’s about time.
“I feel like the mascot does more harm to the school than good,” Tate says. “That’s why I think it’s important we make this a more inclusive environment.”
Not everyone considers the mascot a pressing issue. Student Corry Wang says he’s fine with the change, but “even before this happened, you didn’t see the mascot on campus much except in the context of student athletics.”
Some college alumni have come out against abandoning the Lord Jeff name – claiming the historical record on the general is complex, and the mascot represents a long tradition.
The college administration declined to comment, deferring to the trustee statement. A spokesperson did say the college has not yet decided how to come up with a new mascot.