Williams Who? The Rivalry Between Amherst and Williams Explained

Over the last 200 years, many things have changed about Amherst. The student body is no longer all white, all male and all rich. The smallpox-spreading “Lord Jeff” mascot has been replaced with the image of an extinct animal. And there is a new Science Center which costs almost as much as the GDP of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. 

However, one aspect of Amherst’s identity has persevered: our infamous rivalry with Williams College. While this tradition largely survives through an annual football game, it also goes as far as influencing style on campus, where T-shirts with messages like “Williams College is a Horrible College” can be seen. But the sentiments behind these largely tame aspects of the rivalry must not be overstated: Williams College still makes the blood of Amherst students boil. 

The Amherst and Williams rivalry reportedly dates back to 1821 when Zephaniah Swift Moore, the second president of Williams College, left the school with 15 of Williams’ students and a portion of Williams’ library (allegedly) to found Amherst College. Even two centuries ago, Williams was left behind. But how does Amherst feel about Williams in this day and age? Here are the highlights from discussions I had with students:

“Williams is the worst school ever.”

“Once I visited my friend at Williams, and all her friends talked about was how they wished they had an open curriculum.”

“I heard their science center has a carbon footprint.”

“They literally stole the color purple from us. We had it first.”

“Williams? I hardly know her.”

“Williams? Swipe left.”

“Williams? More like ‘Will I am not.’”

“Yelp review: 0/5 stars, would not recommend, had to call the manager.”

“It’s in the middle of nowhere, like … actually in the middle of nowhere.”

“I heard their entire student body got Covid.”

“Their benches are marble, in an obvious attempt to overcompensate.”

“I had this one doctor who was really mean to me and made both me and my mom cry. She and her whole family went to Williams.”

“They’re closer to New York. I don’t like New York.”

“Of course I got into Williams. What, like it’s hard?”

“Williams was my safety. Right after Princeton and Yale.”

“I heard Biddy matched with Williams’ president on Amherst’s FuckRake. They’re getting dinner on Wednesday.”

More generally, students I spoke to noted that Williamstown is even more isolated than the Amherst campus, something they didn’t believe was possible. One student remarked that “their whole town is a single street. Like, just one street.”

Another point of contention is Williams’ athletic mascot, the “Eph.” It’s a purple cow, named after their founder, Ephraim Williams. One student noted that their athletics teams still bear the name of their slave-owning historical figure, while Amherst switched from “Lord Jeff” to the Amherst Mammoths in 2017. “We got rid of our old white man — why can’t they?” And, historical context aside, this student also thought that “the Ephs” is a bad name for an athletics program. Like, what is it?

All jokes aside, the differences between Amherst and Williams are hard to quantify. Some of the things that make Amherst special, like its robust financial aid system and focus on inclusion and equity, might be lacking at Williams (though I would have to talk to Williams students to determine this). Notably, one student noted that Amherst is need-blind for all applicants, while Williams is only need-blind for domestic students, not international students

All in all, I find that this comment from one student summarizes the Amherst campus’s sentiments towards Williams:

“I spend so little of my time thinking about Williams that I have no comments.”

Due to current Covid restrictions, Amherst students do not interact with Williams often. For instance, there were no sports in the Fall of 2020, so there was no Williams vs. Amherst football game. Regardless, a strong passion against Williams has survived and thrived, despite the odds. It’s a testament to the strength and determination of the Amherst student body. And, another 200 years from now, Amherst students will hopefully still unite behind the same message: “Williams College is a horrible college.”