Photo courtesy Dan Glaun,
A poster protesting Amherst College's mascot hangs in Robert Frost Library.

Amherst College Drops Mascot Associated With Smallpox Blankets

Tara Houska

On Tuesday, a prestigious liberal arts college in Massachusetts announced the end of a long-time controversial mascot.

Amherst College, former home of unofficial mascot ‘Lord Jeff,’ will no longer “employ this reference in its official communications, its messaging and its symbolism,” reads a statement from the Board of Trustees.  

Lord Jeff is the namesake of Lord Jeffrey Amherst, a commander of British forces in the French-Indian War. Amherst was proponent of giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans. In 1763, he wrote to Colonel Henry Bouquet, “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.”

Amherst students largely supported the measure to drop Lord Jeff; a poll conducted in November found 83-percent wanted the mascot gone.

A statement by the board of trustees read, “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 Amherst student newspaper editorial board echoed the sentiment, writing, “We need a mascot that all of the diverse members of this community can rally around, not one that bitterly divides us.”

While Amherst College moves past a mascot considered offensive, the debate surrounding the Washington football team and other Native American mascots continues. Nearby Amherst College, Tewksbury Memorial High School will consider whether to drop its “Redmen” nickname this week. 

At the national level, the NFL’s lawsuit against Native Americans opposing the Washington team moniker and logo now sits in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

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