December 15, 2012

Autoclave poster at Amherst College

More Racism at Amherst College, Native Student Speaks Out

By Alysa LandryAmherst 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 caption reads, “Thank you. Have these been autoclaved?”
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.”
Comment:  I think Trevino's comments are right on. But...I wouldn't equate "insensitive" and "hurtful" with "racist." I don't think the poster was intended to single out Indians or portray them as inferior. Hence, no racism.

For more on Indians and smallpox, see Tipi "Housing Solution" Cartoon and UND Foes Chant "Smallpox Blankets!"

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