Let’s Remove the Lord Jeff

Drawing by Terry R. Peters, Image courtesy of Peter d'Errico, http://www.nativeweb.org/pages/legal/amherst/lord_jeff.html

I’ve been planning to write an article on the mascot for some time, but at risk of being redundant I’ve been hesitant to do so. I ask myself, what hasn’t been said about the mascot yet? What could I add?

To be completely honest, I’ve been a bit dismayed that we haven’t removed the Lord Jeff. It seems so commonsensical to change something that causes people on this campus pain and suffering. After the spring of 2014 I thought (and was hopeful) that the mascot really was going to change. Now, before we enter the spring of 2016 (my last semester here), the Lord Jeff still remains Amherst’s mascot. I say Amherst’s on purpose. I say it because I refuse to say the Lord Jeff is my mascot, so I can’t say it is our mascot. And this is the problem with the Lord Jeff as a mascot. Mascots should not divide a school. They should not bring sadness, pain and shame to a school, but ours does. If we want our school to be inclusive, if we want to build community, and if we want to cultivate a space for the development of diverse, future world leaders, then the Lord Jeff needs to go. It cannot represent our school anymore.

Before the Sit-In I was going to approach this article and topic sarcastically. I thought I needed to as a shield. Not changing the mascot shows that the campus does not take the suffering of others seriously, and I wanted protection from this apathy. However, sarcasm and irony are not the nature of the movement that started this Thursday November 12th. This movement is of radical compassion, sharing, openness, understanding, honesty, and sincerity. Whatever comes from this movement should remember this space of compassion that was created. I hope that my change in tone pays some homage to what started this movement.

The mascot is a contradiction. Mascots are supposed to be what people rally behind and identify with. They are gathering and celebratory. However, I do not identify with Lord Jeffrey Amherst, a man who advocated for the use of smallpox-infected blankets as a form of biological warfare and a man who hoped for the death of Native American People. I could never see myself as connected to him, and it is evident that I am not alone. The Lord Jeff cannot bring our community together in celebration. It represents oppression, racism, and biological warfare. My argument for the removal of the mascot is not a naive erasure of history or tradition. For example, I see the merits of a town, like Amherst, keeping its name on the basis of remembering history. Changing the name could be seen as hiding the fact our past is one of violence and oppression, and that this violence and oppression has been ignored. However, the Lord Jeff as a mascot, which should be something celebratory, needs to go because it can only be an ironic mascot. It bears pain, suffering, guilt, and shame (and currently it divides our campus and the greater Amherst College community, which includes Alumni). This is contradictory to the role mascots are supposed to play. I want to embrace what a mascot has the potential to be. It can bring a diverse group of people together as a common identification point. However, the Lord Jeff simply cannot do this. It is unfit for the current Amherst community.

I am not surprised that our school is felt as alienating. I am not surprised that the athlete non-athlete divide is so strong. If people think that they will have to cheer “Go Jeff’s” at a game then they will not go. (I am aware that certain sports teams do not embrace the Lord Jeff and have their own mascots, but given that many people think this is the case it will still keep them away). In lieu of an adequate mascot our campus has seemed to embrace the manifestation of alienation on the campus as our central rallying point: more students connect with the notion of “Amherst Awkward” than with the symbol of the Lord Jeff. This is probably self-perpetuating: we must be awkward in order to maintain our common identification as Amherst students. The reconsideration of the mascot is the necessary when addressing problems with senses of community on campus. It is concerning that such a large portion of campus body is alienated—this cannot be good for the future of Amherst College

At this point, the question of changing the mascot should really no longer be a debate. I do not believe that people can still hold the position to keep a mascot that literally causes other people on this campus pain. I refuse to legitimize a blatant disregard for the suffering and pain of other people by entertaining the idea that the question of changing the mascot is still up for debate. I wish I could say these words and have them be true, but the sad fact is that it is still being debated. The experience of alienation and suffering of people on this campus is somehow a question open for discussion, even though experience is  lived truth.

Instead of reiterating past arguments to remove the mascot, I believe to move forward we should ask: what will happen when the Lord Jeff is removed? The question of the mascot should be posed as: there is something on this campus that causes harm to others. What should we do about changing it? We must remember that symbols have power and this power can be harmful. The symbol of the Lord Jeff mascot confronts us and produces distress, unease, shame, and suffering. The Lord Jeff as mascot expresses the denial of the gravity of Lord Jeffrey Amherst’s actions and the erasure and dismissal of the feelings—both past and present— of those who have been oppressed by his actions and racist attitudes. This denial and dismissal are inherent in the approval of Lord Jeff as a mascot. I am not going to write another article trying to persuade opponents that the mascot must go. I am declaring that it must go based on the suffering its presence causes.

Removing the Lord Jeff and accepting the moose are not equivalent. You can be for removing Lord Jeff without advocating for accepting the moose. My suggestion for moving forward is that people present their different ideas for a new mascot and discuss what factors should go into choosing a new mascot. Different options that have been proposed are the purple squirrels, the moose, the dragons, etc. Personally, I would steer away from human mascots. Even if the Lord Jeff weren’t a person who advocated for intentionally giving small-pox blankets to Native Americans in hopes that they would die, the fact that he is a man makes it a bit hard to identify with him, as a woman. Again, this is thinking into the future about what the new mascot should be like. However, in order for us to move-on to this step we need to vote during the AAS poll this Tuesday about the mascot, and we need vote to remove the Lord Jeff. The next step will be asking what replaces him.

Also please comment, especially to link to useful articles about the Lord Jeff Mascot.