Letter to the Editor

The Biology Department writes to The Student regarding an image found hanging in a College science facility. Signatories include Jill S. Miller, Chair of Biology, Ethan D. Clotfelter, Julie A. Emerson, Stephen A. George, Caroline E. Goutte, Ethan R. Graf, Michael E. Hood, Rachel A. Levin, Dominic L. Poccia, Alexandra E. Purdy, David I. Ratner, Ethan J. Temeles, Josef G. Trapani, and Patrick L. Williamson.

We write to inform the community of an incident last semester involving a cartoon that was in the autoclave facility in the Department of Biology. For those who do not know, an autoclave is a piece of equipment important in scientific research (and in medical facilities) that is used to sterilize supplies and media by subjecting them to high temperatures and pressures.

The image in question (apparently obtained from an online source) depicted Lord Jeffery Amherst handing blankets to a family of Native Americans; they ask in response whether the blankets had been autoclaved. The connection to this piece of sterilizing equipment was, of course, intentional. The autoclave facility is not public space, but for those aware of the cartoon it was seen as a critique of the college mascot by way of reminder of the deplorable biological warfare inflicted on Native Americans by Lord Jeffrey Amherst and others.

In December, the Department was made aware (via a letter) that several students found the cartoon offensive. Following receipt of this letter, the image was immediately removed and a dialogue opened between those students and the departmental chair. These discussions were both productive and insightful, and the chair brought the incident to the attention of her colleagues by sharing these conversations with both faculty and staff in the department.

Our intention in writing is to communicate clearly what happened, including the response of the department, and to offer an apology to any who were offended by the cartoon. As faculty at the College, we are committed to creating safe spaces for all students, faculty, and staff to engage in learning at Amherst.