“We are the Mammoths!” has been the main headline on the Amherst homepage this week, leaving many elated, some horrified, others indifferent, and yet most are just relieved that the college finally has a tangible mascot to rally around (and I am among them). To the majority of those in the Amherst community, this year-long process to adopt a new mascot may have seemed slow, even awkward at times when my friends from back home would ask me what my school’s mascot is. I finally will be able to say “Mammoths” instead of “we’re working on it.”
However, behind the scenes, for the committee of 10 alumni and 10 students, the timing to narrow down the choices and move the votes along was a dynamic working process. After the suggestions were collected from the community in the fall, the committee spent several conference calls discussing and subsequently narrowing down the suggestions to 30 semifinalists. These were then narrowed down to the final five in a big meeting based on alumni and student delegate feedback, which were voted on by the community. And now we’ve got the Mammoths!
I spoke with one of the heads of the student committee, Alejandro Nino Quintero, to ask him more about his overall impression of the process:
“Overall I think it was really fair and transparent. I don’t think anyone in the community can say that we weren’t mostly clear in our communication, and that overall if there was a way to narrow down some 500 something options to 1, I think we really made sure we were taking the community’s voice into account, not just choosing a mascot. And so I think having that kind of traditional role of an arbiter is the most important thing to make a process like that succeed.”
When asked what he would want to share to someone at another college undergoing a similar mascot project, Quintero puts it, “I think the process is only as good as the suggestions you have. If you don’t have much interest towards the beginning, then when you’re actually getting down to the final choices you end up with people either rejecting the process or feeling particularly unexcited. ” Per the Amherst website, “There were 2046 total suggestions, 588 of those were unique.…. Class years for alumni and students [who submitted suggestions] range from 1942 – 2020.”
As a new member of the committee this year, I did more than just help narrow down suggestions and meet with the committee—a key part of my job was to help the student momentum not die down in the lulls of time when there was no result coming out of the mascot process. This included lots of tabling in Val, pestering my friends to suggest mascots, and giving away about 2000 purple plastic cups with a question mark stamped on them. Even though there are far fewer students than alumni, the student momentum felt to me a very important part of moving the process along. Without student excitement for a new mascot, adopting a new mascot into the Amherst culture for years to come would not be legitimate.
While it can be expected that the alumni were the most upset by the process of adopting a new mascot just after Lord Jeff was voted out, they can’t complain about not being included. 23,865 alumni were eligible for an equally weighted vote alongside the students, whose total population is only 1,898. When asked about something that could have been done differently in the process, Quintero’s main point emphasized the committee’s structuring of the final vote, saying, “Every vote counts the same, when students are the ones who are reshaping the culture and at the present moment, and the school is kind of in that sense theirs.” Quintero doesn’t disregard the importance of the alumni voice, but notes the final vote could essentially have been dictated by the sheer number of alumni.
So, why the mammoths? More specifically, why did mammoths win over purple and white, even though we saw a lot of general support for P&W from the alumni? Quintero explains, “I don’t think there’s a clear answer to that. I mean for one thing, you can’t really homogenize that entire group, to say ‘All the alumni like purple and white.’ It was a dominant narrative among some of the class groups. But, as mentioned, even just across the ages we were getting a pretty broad spectrum of choices and that really shows in the data, you know, it wasn’t like there was one runaway winner.” Purple and White received 4,134 (48.69%) votes, only 222 votes and 2.62% behind the winning Mammoths. Quintero notes that “[Mammoths] also stood strong against purple and white because it was tied to the college’s history, but it was a bit more exciting for a lot people.”
I have spoken with individual students who have said they voted for the Mammoths, but not because it particularly resonated with them: it was simply their preferred choice in the final 5. I suppose this is better than not voting at all, but we hope that Mammoths will be something to resonate with every student one day. Sure, saying “Amherst Mammoths” is a mouthful, but students can collectively laugh at the quirky mascot that is strong and powerful, but also shaggy haired and awkward. In the final question for Quintero, I asked him what will be essential in the coming years to get the community, primarily the students on campus, excited about Mammoths.
“… branding is the most important next step, and really making sure alumni and students have a lot of voice in what that looks like. Because I think alumni and students are going to be the ones often wearing it on their shirts or trying to identify with it.” Quintero believes the creativity and passions students have for the new mascot–such as one person he mentioned who wanted to create a two-person costume–will ultimately be what allows the Mammoth to grow as part of the culture.
Though a new mascot has been officially adopted, it is no secret that many among the alumni have shown strong disdain towards Amherst for getting rid of Lord Jeff. However, this is a college, meaning students cycle out every 4 years. The needs of a student body change over time. The alums should love this school because of their education here, the friends they made, amongst many other factors. The Lord Jeff mascot may have been an integral part of their college experience–as we hope the Mammoths will be someday–but it should not be the only reason they feel tied to Amherst. Alums should not feel completely dissociated from the college simply because we got rid of the Jeff. Supporting the place where they learned, not just for what it was in the past, but for what it is now and what it is becoming will be important to think about moving forward.