Amherst College changes mascot, will now wield tusks
Marking a significant jump through time from the 1700s to the Ice Age, Amherst College students voted for the Mammoths as its first official mascot, kicking former unofficial school mascot Lord Jeffrey to the curb.
The selection process for an official mascot began on Oct. 24 and was called for primarily in response to “a large contingent of students [who] desired a mascot,” according to Amherst College’s website.
Some argued the decision came more so as a response to the criticism of Lord Jeffrey Amherst, as he was documented to have used biological warfare against Native Americans during his time as a British Army officer.
“What is beyond dispute is that the symbolic figure of Lord Jeff has become a source of division among us today,” wrote Cullen Murphy, chair of the Amherst College board of trustees, in a letter to the Amherst community on Jan. 26, 2016.
The step to go forward with the shaggy, prehistoric mammoth was taken on April 3, when Amherst College students, eligible alumni and staff voted online for their favorite mascot among a list of the final five selections for mascots. The list included the Fighting Poets, Purple and White, Valley Hawks and Wolves.
The Mammoths, a popular choice because Amherst College’s Beneski Museum of Natural History famously displays the skeleton of a Columbian mammoth, unearthed by one of the college’s professors in 1925, took first place with 4,356 votes with the Purple and White falling just short at 4,134.
“It was inevitable,” said sophomore Maeve McNamara of the change.
McNamara, a film and biology major at Amherst College, opted for the Valley Hawks. However, she did not especially care which option wound up being chosen to represent the school. For her, just having a legitimate mascot to firmly represent the school was enough.
“It’s good to just have something finally,” she said.
As a student-athlete on both Amherst College’s basketball and soccer teams, not having an official mascot was a minor nuisance for McNamara. Despite the basketball team winning a national championship in 2017, McNamara recalled how during her away games, the hosting school would announce the team and say, “‘The Amherst …’ and not know what to say next to it.”
She said banners supporting the team would say, “Go Amherst purple and white,” but they would never make any mention of Lord Jeffrey, who none of the women’s sports teams recognized as a mascot, according to McNamara.
In regards to the Mammoths, McNamara thinks the new mascot is “kind of funny.”
“It’s kind of odd that they’re extinct and very archaic, for a school that’s so progressive,” she said.
Jonah Gilbert, an undecided sophomore at Amherst College, said a lot of people dislike the new name “because it’s so extinct, really.” He noted the noticeable displeasure over the change that came from alumni – some of whom had sentimental attachments to Lord Jeffrey.
“[Whoever] is responsible for this continuing embarrassment should be immediately showed the door. Along with their boss and their boss’s boss,” commented Eric Britton on the Facebook announcing the change of mascot. Britton identified himself as an Amherst graduate from the class of 1960.
“It was definitely good to get away from that,” Gilbert said, referring to the cultural insensitivity associated with Lord Jeffrey.
Gilbert, a native of Brooklyn, New York, said he spoke to New York Amherst College alumni recently, all of whom mentioned they were against having Lord Jeffrey as the college’s unofficial mascot.
“It’s not as if anyone really, really misses him,” he said.
While some view the Mammoths as an “extinct” and “funny” mascot, to Caroline Hanna, Director of Media Communications at Amherst College, a mammoth is “the perfect symbol of Amherst’s strength, academically and athletically.”
“The word ‘mammoth’ conjures up an image of a mighty, imposing and fierce animal,” she wrote in an official statement.
The Amherst College Women’s and Gender Center also took part in praising the new mascot, stating over Facebook, “Mammoths were likely matriarchal.”
The next step for Amherst College in their adoption of an official mascot will be to pick a logo.
“The development of the mascot logo will begin very soon. We hope it will be ready for a debut in the fall,” wrote Hanna.
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