Amherst College Gives Unofficial Mascot 'Lord Jeff' The Boot
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We are also tracking the story of a name. The name shows how the experience of Native Americans is woven into the wider American story. Amherst College in Massachusetts has a name loaded with history, which is causing the college to abandon its mascot. Here's New England Public Radio's Karen Brown.
KAREN BROWN, BYLINE: While the elite liberal arts college is named after the town of Amherst, the town is named after Lord Jeffrey 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.
O'CONNELL: That mascot and that name has always been profoundly offensive.
BROWN: English professor Barry 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...
O'CONNELL: Symbols aren't just empty, but they actually mean something, especially when they're taken for granted.
BROWN: 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.
SYDNEY TATE: I feel like the mascot itself and the name does more harm than good for this school. That's why I think it's important that we make this a more inclusive environment.
BROWN: Not everyone considers the mascot a pressing issue. Student Corry Wang says he's fine with the change, but...
CORRY WANG: Even before this happened, you really didn't see the, you know, mascot on campus anywhere except maybe in the context of student athletics.
BROWN: 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. For NPR News, I'm Karen Brown in Amherst, Mass. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.