Metro

Amherst College trustees to decide Lord Jeff’s fate

A student wore a T-shirt that references the controversy over Amherst College's Lord Jeff mascot.
Nathaniel Brooks/New York Times
A student wore a T-shirt that references the controversy over Amherst College's Lord Jeff mascot.

Lord Jeff’s tenure as the unofficial mascot of Amherst College may be drawing to a close.

The college’s board of trustees is expected to decide Friday whether the longtime mascot, which has drawn ire as a symbol of colonial imperialism, should be removed.

The board will announce its decision at some point after the meeting concludes Friday evening, a college spokeswoman said Thursday.

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Amherst does not have an official mascot, but the figure of Lord Jeff, who wears a red coat and powdered wig, has long stood as an unofficial symbol, and the school’s sports teams are often referred to as the Jeffs.

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Lord Jeffery Amherst, who commanded British forces in North America during the French and Indian War in the 18th century, endorsed giving blankets carrying the smallpox virus to Native Americans.

In November, a group of faculty voted to drop the symbol, and a group of students called on the college’s president to condemn the “inherent racist nature” of the mascot.

In a poll of students at the private liberal arts college conducted in November, 83 percent said Lord Jeff should be removed as the mascot.

In an alumni survey, opinion was evenly divided. One-third said Lord Jeff should remain as mascot, one-third said it should be removed, and one-third indicated that it didn’t matter much to them.

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On its website, the college acknowledges that Jeffrey Amherst advocated biological warfare against Indians, but says “there is no evidence that any infected blankets were distributed at his command.”

In the summer of 1763, when attacks by Native Americans were threatening British control, Amherst wrote in a letter to a colonel, “Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians?”

In a later letter, Amherst writes: “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.”

The protests come amid growing opposition to mascots some Native Americans find offensive, such as the Washington Redskins.

Amherst College is considered one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country.

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Notable graduates include President Calvin Coolidge, former US Supreme Court chief justice Harlan Fiske Stone, and author David Foster Wallace.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.