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This poster was displayed in a biology classroom at Amherst College.

More Racism at Amherst College, Native Student Speaks Out

Alysa Landry
12/14/12

Amherst College is apologizing for a poster some students considered racist and insensitive that was displayed December 5 on a wall in a biology classroom.

The poster is a depiction of Lord Jeffery Amherst, commanding general of British forces in North America during the final battles of the French and Indian War. He is the mascot of this exclusive and prestigious liberal arts school.

Historical accounts point to Lord Jeffery as a pioneer in biological warfare. He is credited with requesting that smallpox-infected blankets be sent to the American Indians, starting an epidemic among them.

The poster, titled “A gift from Lord Jeffrey Amherst,” shows Lord Jeffery gifting a stack of blankets to an American Indian man dressed in leather and fringe, with feathers clinging to a headband. An American Indian woman and child are in the background; a baby is strapped to a cradle board.

The full poster that was displayed in a biology classroom at Amherst College.The caption reads, “Thank you. Have these been autoclaved?”

The only other text on the poster states: “Welcome to the Lord Jeffrey Autoclave.” An autoclave is a device used to sanitize equipment with hot steam.

Amherst College, a private school established in 1821, and the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, were named after Lord Jeffery. Students and athletes answer to nicknames like the Lord Jeffs or the Lady Lord Jeffs.

“As a college, we regret that this offensive image was posted,” said Caroline Hanna, spokeswoman for Amherst College. “We are committed to creating a welcoming, supportive and respectful environment for the entire community, and we have taken steps to ensure that this behavior won’t be repeated.”

Biology faculty removed the image “within minutes” of learning it had offended students, Hanna said. Faculty also met with individual students who complained about the image and offered apologies both personal and on behalf of the department.

The apology came after student Danielle Trevino, Choctaw, sent a scathing letter to the biology department, calling the poster “truly hurtful and alienating.”

“As biologists, you should be especially aware of the devastating effects of germ warfare on human populations, especially considering that Native Americans are a minority among minorities,” Trevino wrote. “The fact that Amherst is our mascot does not make the humorous use of his image acceptable.”

Treviso asked that the image be removed and that the department be held accountable.

“I will not stand for lighthearted references to genocide or allow an already-marginalized population to be further ignored on this campus,” she wrote. “I will also not allow an academic department to think they cannot be held accountable for the insensitivity that occurs within their spaces.”

Trevino, a junior from Oklahoma studying English, also is working on a certificate of Native American studies offered by the Five College Consortium, a unique collaboration among the five colleges and universities in Western Massachusetts’ Connecticut River Valley: Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Trevino is the sole member and senior co-chair for the Native American Students Organization at Amherst College, formed partially in response to issues having to do with the college’s controversial mascot.

“Throughout this area, there are not a lot of Native Americans,” she said during a phone interview. “I’m one of the few people addressing this here. I have to say I’m a Native person and that this bothers me before someone does something. I feel that when I address issues of the mascot, I have to say I’m Native before anyone understands that this is not OK.”

This is not the first time Amherst College has come under fire for publicizing insensitive or racist images. In March, the college’s publication, “The Indicator,” ran a cartoon depicting the housing shortage. The cartoon shows three tipis in a clearing, along with the caption, “Housing Crisis Solution: Lord Jeff Approved.”

Students complained about this incident and the editor of “The Indicator” and the cartoonist issued apologies.

Amherst College, along with the other four institutions in the Five College Consortium, is making strides toward better awareness and understanding, said Kathleen Brown-Perez, a member of the Brothertown Indian Nation, a professor at UMass Amherst and chair of the consortium’s Native American studies committee.

Amherst College recently hired two Native faculty members—a first in its history, Brown-Perez said, but the area, not known for reaching out to the Native population, has a long way to go.

Brown-Perez points to the autoclave incident as proof that pushing for better awareness of American Indians and Alaska Natives is “two steps forward, one step back.”

“I would love to say I was surprised by it, but I’m not,” she said of the flyer. “They are the Lord Jeffs. That’s controversial in itself.”

Education about Native populations has to start in elementary school, Brown-Perez said, but that doesn’t happen in Massachusetts.

“Children don’t even learn about Native Americans because it’s not on the [standardized tests],” she said. “I still get students in my class who are surprised to learn that Native Americans are still alive. The level of cluelessness among the students is shocking.”

Education continues in colleges, among students and faculty members, Brown-Perez said.

She faulted Amherst College faculty for endorsing insensitive or racist flyers, but praised the college for the steps it is taking to right the situation. The college plans to address the issue in an upcoming edition of “The Indicator.”

“Even if they don’t know everything about Native Americans, they [faculty] should be aware that it’s offensive,” Brown-Perez said. “I do respect Amherst College for hiring two Native faculty members. They are moving forward, but there’s still a general lack of understanding.”

Amherst College, ranked second best liberal arts college in the country by U.S. News & World Report and 13th out of all U.S. colleges and universities by Forbes, is an exclusively undergraduate institution. It serves a student population of about 1,800, of which zero reported being of American Indian or Alaska Native descent, according to enrollment data from 2011.

Trevino may be the only American Indian student on campus.

“Sometimes it’s a bit discouraging,” she said. “There’s pressure for me to speak up about it, to address it and tell people.”

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Have Amherst College, send out applications to all the Native Corp. for full scolarships to the collage. Make sure there at least ten.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
trevino....its good you are standing up for your people and having others open their eyes to whats truely around them...now i think you should push it to where they get more students of the native heritage and see to it that they get the best education they can just like you!!! good luck to you and your future!!!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Good call little brother, keep up the good fight, we are with you!!!!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I want to thank my fellow Brotherton tribe member for addressing the issue. Keep up the good work. Gordon Lightfoot Fay

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I'm not Native American,But I still think it is sad to have an institution named afterbsuch a man.Those smallpox infested blankets were knowingly given by him as a gesture of peace.His name disgusts me.I'm glad you took a stand. I couldn't bear to hear that man's or see his face each day.Best wishes on your future.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
If any colleges are still teachng from a book that teaches Western Civilization,it needs to be looked into, an older version of it taught that although Europeans did commit many atrocities to the Natives of , the Natives had their revenge by giving the Europeans like Syphilus

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Trevino should put out a call to all US and CDN universities to send letters to that institution expressing support of Trevino's efforts. Bad enough the institution is founded on racism and genocidal personified by Amherst himself that does not give students and faculty the right to excuse themselves from respecting Native Americans and what they endured. Better yet, let Native American students openly challenge that university to a debate about early colonial history of the United States, they can host the event, we'll see how smart they are/or ignorant they are of the real history.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Thank you Danielle Trevino for being so brave. As a Native American it is hard to stand up to request that people stop being ignorant about our culture. Non-Natives think we are being ridiculous, but these are our basic human rights that should be allowed us. Thank you again.
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