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Committee alters ring design

By Niraj S. Desai

The Class of 1992 Ring Committee has voted to alter the design of the class ring in response to concerns raised by Native American students.

The original design, released a month ago, commemorated the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage by dressing the scholar figure on the MIT seal in a costume of the Columbus era. Many students complained that the allusion to Columbus ignored the exploitation of Native Americans and did not deserve to be commemorated.

In the new design, the clothing of the scholar has been revised so that he no longer appears to be in a Columbus costume, but in more traditional garb.

The vote to change the ring design came after a March 21 meeting between the ring committee, the Native American Student Association (NASA), and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES).

The ring committee's decision was motivated by a belief that the concerns of Native American students were legitimate and needed to be recognized, said committee chair Cynthia R. Evanko '92.

NASA President Stefanie L. Lawson '92 said she was pleased with the change but wished that another part of the seal, a globe showing the North American continent, would also be changed.

Ring sparks complaints

Native American students and others complained soon after its premiere that the original ring design was offensive to Native Americans in that it celebrated Columbus' "discovery" of America.

Columbus did not discover America, the students pointed out, since millions of people were living in the Western Hemisphere at the time of his voyage. Moreover, Columbus' arrival "began a holocaust that drove Native American tribes to the edge of extinction and beyond," they argued.

One critic, in a letter to The Tech, charged that the ring committee would have been more sensitive to these concerns if Native Americans were more numerous on campus.

Evanko said the ring committee had not realized that the original design would offend Native American students. After hearing the objections, the committee understood it had made a mistake and wanted to rectify it, she added.

Changes discussed

The focus of the March 21 meeting was on finding a way to change the ring so as to address the Native American concerns.

The Native American groups asked not only that the garb of the scholar figure on the MIT seal be changed, but that a globe that appears on the seal also be changed.

The scholar is standing on the globe, which is oriented so that it shows North America. In a brochure describing the ring, the presence of the globe is connected to the commemoration of Columbus' voyage.

Evanko said the ring committee, while wishing to change the design, was concerned about making alterations that would delay delivery of the rings.

Balfour, the ring's manufacturer, told the committee that it could alter the scholar's clothing without a delay, but that altering the globe would mean that class rings would not be delivered until the fall, Evanko said.

The committee decided to change the clothing, but not the globe.

According to Evanko, the globe was put on the seal to signify that MIT is a school with many international students. The globe shows North America because MIT is in North America, she said.

Lawson said that, whatever the ring committee's intent, the globe has been represented to symbolize Columbus and it would be better if the North American continent were removed from it. But she said she understood that "there are other members of the class to please" and why the committee chose to leave the globe intact.

Lawson suggested that the committee issue another brochure explaining that the globe symbolizes MIT's internationalism and not Columbus' journey.

Sympathetic reaction

NASA has been "surprised and pleased with all the support we have received," Lawson said. She said she had not expected the ring design would be changed when the first complaints were aired.

But everyone -- students, faculty, administrators, and the ring committee -- reacted sympathetically to the Native American concerns, Lawson said. "Just making the effort to change it" is important, she said.

Evanko also believed that the fact that the complaints resulted in action was important symbolically. "I think it is going to be a really good thing . . . that someone recognized [the Native American] cause," she said.

Evanko hoped that, with the design changes, sophomores would feel more positive about their class ring.