Native Village 
Youth and Education News

January 1, 2013

More Racism at Amherst College, Native Student Speaks Out
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Condensed by Native Village

Autoclave: Device (as for sterilizing) that uses steam under pressure
 Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Massachusetts: Amherst College is apologizing for a biology classroom poster some students consider racist and insensitive. It depicts Lord Jeffery Amherst, commanding general of British forces in North America during the final battles of the French and Indian War.

Lord Jeffery is the mascot of Amherst College, an 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 blankets to an American Indian man. An American Indian woman and child are in the background; a baby is strapped to a cradle board.

The caption reads, “Thank you. Have these been autoclaved?”

An autoclave is a device used to sanitize equipment with hot steam.

Amherst College 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.”

Faculty removed the image “within minutes” of learning it had offended students. They also met with 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. Treviso asked that the image be removed and that the department be held accountable. She called 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. The fact that Amherst is our mascot does not make the humorous use of his image acceptable.”

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

                                     Danielle Trevino

Trevino, a junior from Oklahoma, is studying English and working on a Native American studies certificate. She is the sole member and senior co-chair for the Native American Students Organization at Amherst.

“Throughout this area, there are not a lot of Native Americans,” she said. “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 published insensitive or racist images. In March, a college 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 Indicator's editor and cartoonist issued apologies.

Amherst College recently hired two Native faculty members—a first in its history, said Kathleen Brown-Perez. Perez is a member of the Brothertown Indian Nation and UMass Amherst professor. She points to the autoclave incident as proof raising 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. She also praised the college for taking steps to right the situation.

“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.”

The college plans to address the issue in an upcoming edition of “The Indicator.”

Amherst College is ranked second best liberal arts college in the country by U.S. News & World Report. It serves about 1,800 students. Not one student claimed American Indian or Alaska Native status in 2011 enrollment data.

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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