Amherst College votes to remove Lord Jeffery as mascot

By Brendan Deady

(Robert Frost Library, Amherst College. Robert Rigo/ Daily Collegian)
(Robert Frost Library, Amherst College. Robert Rigo/ Daily Collegian)

Lord Jeffery Amherst, a controversial colonial military commander who endorsed the use of smallpox-infected blankets against Native Americans in the mid-18th century, will no longer serve as Amherst College’s unofficial mascot, according to an email distributed by the college’s Board of Trustees Tuesday. No replacement figure has been announced.

The decision to debate whether the college, which is named after the town of Amherst and not the individual, should publicly separate itself from the French-Indian War commander was precipitated by a student-led protest against racial discrimination that took place in November.

Dozens of student organizations on campus collaborated to a form a group named “Amherst Uprising” and occupied the college’s Robert Frost Library in November amidst a wave of college-based anti-discrimination protests that were ignited by events at the University of Missouri.

Amherst Uprising presented a list of demands to its administration, including mandatory cultural sensitivity training for students that put up posters criticizing protests at the University of Missouri and apologies for histories of racial injustice. One of the stipulations demanded by the group was the removal of Lord Jeff as the unofficial mascot.

Following the protests, the student government took a poll of the student body regarding the removal of Lord Jeff, in which 83 percent of respondents supported the mascot’s replacement and an informal poll of the faculty unanimously supported the same. A poll of alumni found that 37 percent viewed the mascot favorably, 52 percent unfavorably and 10 percent remained undecided, according to MassLive.
The Board of Trustees, which took into account the opinions of faculty, students and alumni, convened last Thursday and debated the issue throughout the weekend before making the announcement Tuesday.
“Amherst College finds itself in a position where a mascot – which, when you think about it, has only one real job, which is to unify – is driving people apart because of what it symbolizes to many in our community,” the board said in a statement.
The Board acknowledged that a portion of its alumni, board members and student body view the removal of Lord Jeff as an offense against the freedom of speech and the school’s tradition. The board did not disclose the results of the votes but stated that the decision, although not unanimous, was a collective representation of the board’s opinion.
“It is fair to recognize that historical context may influence, or make us cautious about, judgments concerning Jeffery Amherst the man,” the statement said. “It is equally fair to decide that 18th-century standards should not govern a 21st-century choice of symbol.”

Lord Jeffery unofficially became associated with the college in the early 20th century due to his role as the star of a campus song included in the college’s Glee Club program, according to the college’s newspaper, the Amherst Student.
Although he was never an official mascot, many sports teams are referred to as the Lord Jeffs or the Jeffs. Administrators at the college say that the athletic department no longer uses the name, however, and have attempted to remove the name from athletic gear, according to the New York Times.

The student group Amherst Uprising, which reignited the debate over the Lord Jeff mascot, had also requested a series of formal apologies from the standing administration for the college’s “legacy of institutional racism and oppression”, according to the group’s website. Up until about 40 years ago, the college’s faculty and student body was comprised of mostly white males, according to the New York Times.,

Prior to the latest decision to remove Lord Jeff, the editorial board of the college’s student newspaper, the Amherst Student, wrote an op-ed that urged the trustees to condemn the Lord Jeff mascot at their January meeting.

“It is unacceptable that a man with this legacy of racial hatred and planned genocide should represent our community,” the op-ed said. “We need a mascot that all of the diverse members of this community can rally around — not one that bitterly divides us.”

Brendan Deady can be reached [email protected]