After a yearlong debate, Amherst College in Massachusetts — one of the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the nation — recently announced its decision to do away with its unofficial, two-century-old mascot, colonial-war military commander Lord Jeffery Amherst, who many say symbolizes white oppression.
In a statement, an Amherst College spokesperson said that the college will no longer reference Lord Jeffery throughout the institution and will come up with a new name for the Lord Jeffery Inn, a famous on-campus hotel owned by the college.
“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,” wrote Cullen Murphy, chairman of the college’s Board of Trustees. He added that the college would not try to impose its stance on anyone else.
“Beyond that, people will do as they will,” he said in the statement. “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.”
Lord Jeffery is cited as advocating for the demise of Native Americans by giving them smallpox-infected blankets. After leading British victories in the French and Indian War, he wrote in a transcript in 1763, “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.”
Founded in 1821, Amherst College was named after the town rather than Lord Jeffery himself. But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that Lord Jeffery came to be the campus symbol. Jeffery, along with being named in the campus song, had been referred to at athletic events, with teams often nicknamed the “Jeffs” or the “Lord Jeffs.” However, the athletic department, as well as the administration, said the terminology is no longer in use and that attempts are being made to remove his name from athletic gear.
“I think it’s a big step in the right direction for our community,” Cornell Brooks, a freshman who is a member of the student government, said in a statement. “We’re trying to be one of the most progressive schools in the country. The fact that our mascot was someone who represented such poor moral values — I really wasn’t proud.”
However, some Amherst alumni are less pleased to see a 250-year tradition being wiped from campus.
“We think of ourselves as ‘Jeffs,’ and we always will,” Donald MacNaughton, a member of the class of 1965, said in a statement.
The debate began about a year ago, when students proposed the adoption of a moose as the college’s new and official mascot. The proposal was met with warnings by administrators that there would be no end to the political correctness if the college distanced itself from Lord Jeffery.
However, Chairman Murphy disagreed.
In his statement, he said: “The board would respond that you can find slippery slopes anywhere you look, that real life isn’t a philosophy class or court of law, and that people long ago figured out the common-sense way to deal with slippery slopes: Just draw the line.”