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Hair provokes negative images

It is ironic that 20 years ago roles might be have been reversed in the great MIT hair debate. Twenty years ago, students might have come up with the idea to put a hair sculpture in the Student Center and the administration would have probably opposed it. Twenty years ago, the administration was creating IAP, starting UROP, and instituting pass/fail. Oh, how times have changed. Today, I have to lend my voice to the chorus of students who decry this monstrosity, but let me do so in an at least a polite and reasoned way.

First of all, any large sculpture in the atrium would tend to destroy the sense of spaciousness conveyed by such a large open area. Before the renovation, the Student Center was the most depressing building on campus. On the first floor, dark panel walls and black flooring gave way to a pit which descended into the basement. The second floor was better, but still, a sense of dark foreboding permeated and renders all my memories as vague, depressing recollections of darkness and a desire to get out of the building as soon as possible.

Now we have a wonderful atrium, where students can look from the first floor to the third floor. Brightly lit, with white walls and light green highlights, the Student Center is actually a friendly building now. A large sculpture, hanging in the midst of this seems pointless. It would not make things as bad as they once were, but what's the point of it? An absence of obstruction is the best sculpture for the atrium.

Secondly, there is the medium of hair. I went to the first slide show where Mags Harries presented her other work and showed some slides of the uses of hair in art. I also listened to an anthropologist describe why people found hair so provocative. I agree. It is very provocative. I can understand why an artist would want to pick a medium which challenges people, but why must it challenge us with such negative images?

We can rationalize and argue that there is nothing wrong with hair, but why should we waste our time? I don't care if other cultures revered hair, or even if people in our culture revere it. It makes me itch. As I walk through the student center, I will not sit and rationalize "why hair?" I will simply walk by, on my way to eat at Lobdell and be "grossed out." That's my gut reaction and I think it's shared by the majority of students.

Now let's say I do stop to think about the medium for a minute. The first thoughts that run through my head are images of scalping during conflicts between settlers and Native Americans. Next, I see Auschwitz, with head-shaven Jews being gassed. I think of Samson losing his strength after losing his hair. Hair may have been revered in some cultures, but always when it was on people's heads. Removing it has more often been a means of debasement. At MIT, I think of lecture halls with students who have been up all night and who have not showered, with greasy hair and reeking of body odor. All these images are very negative.

The artist wants to symbolize the collective human power at MIT. What power? Individual power reigns here. MIT students are not big on collective action. The biggest protests get around 100 of the usual suspects to turn out. Most activities are run by a handful of super-dedicated individuals. Activities and student groups rarely coordinate their activities. Students do not trust concentrations of authority. Neither does the faculty or the administration. Community here is very decentralized, residing in the living groups for students. It would be nice if students came together in the Student Center, but why should they, when they don't even have control over what should be their own building?

Cutting students hair, in fact, symbolizes a number of bad things about MIT. MIT takes your money, your self-esteem, your relationships, your time -- practically everything -- for that degree. Must they take my hair as well? I have given my pound of flesh to the Institute already. And even if I choose not to give any hair, I will have to look at a sculpture made of the hair of those students who did not have the presence of mind to escape MIT with their heads intact.

Opposition to a hair sculpture is not a rational thing, it is emotional. But isn't emotion what matters? If the sculpture is going to provoke people into feeling bad it shouldn't be done. This would be different if the sculpture were trying to make a negative point, as a protest against something, but then, why put it in the Student Center? The Student Center should promote relaxation, not confrontation.

Finally, there is the issue of money. Many students have said things like, "This is what our tuition money is going to? #$*@!" I hear the commission will cost $75,000. To put that figure in a student's perspective, consider that the entire budget for student activities from the Dean's Office is only $67,000. I realize $75K is a small amount for a sculpture, but any amount is too much for a sculpture no one likes!

You can't please 100 percent of the people. But this hair sculpture comes pretty close to not pleasing anybody.


Dave Atkins, a senior, is double majoring in political science and management.

I am astonished at Craig Abernathy's misinformed attempt to pass off incredibly unfair and shallow statements as fact ["MIT's focus on education lacks compatibility with aims of ROTC," April 3].

I will note first that I am a professional naval officer who has served my country for the past seven years and am proud of it. It is a privilege to defend the United States and its constitution; however, I do not expect any special award for so doing. Neither do I have to apologize to anyone for my profession. I have no burning desire to die for my country, but I am prepared to do so if it is necessary to defend freedom against tyranny and oppression.

Abernathy's casual statements about the public good reflect a seldom challenged, but significantly misinformed attitude prevalent among many people in the United States today that freedom is theirs by birth. Sorry to interject reality, but world history shows that freedom must be fought for and defended against the despots and egomaniacs in this world who would like nothing better than to sacrifice your or my life for their own selfish purposes.

Mr. Abernathy, see if you can get the people of France, Norway, or the Philippines who were conquered in World War II to agree with you that the Allied military personnel who risked and often lost their lives to liberate them were not committed to the public good.

Since you brought it up, what do you suppose the people of Panama really think about the US servicemen who gave their lives to rid their country of an oppressive despot, who refused to recognize the results of legitimate elections and terrorized all who opposed him?

Is it selfishness and unchecked desire to destroy human life that motivates sailors who regularly depart on six month deployments and the Air Force and Army personnel who spend up to a year in Germany and South Korea? Certainly it is not the low pay and extended family separations that drives them.

While I would be the last one to defend the reprehensible misdeeds committed by Oliver L. North and John M. Poindexter, it is extremely superficial and unfair to judge the entire US military establishment by their morality. Do the members of the medical professions still serve the public good even though some doctors are incompetent? Of course they do.

Certainly, the United States has learned some painful lessons about the limits of military force, but let us not forget that it is the non-military executive branch of government and not military officers that dictates when and where combat forces will be used.

Finally, Abernathy claims incompatibility between an education environment and the goals of the US military, but makes no attempt to let us in on just what he perceives those goals to be. Let us be clear about this, the goal of a nation's armed forces should be first to deter aggression against that country. Failing that, the next goal better be to win if committed to conflict since anything less would be a dishonest waste of the nation's resources.

If my freedom is at risk, I would rather be defended by a group of professionals who specialize in "destroying human life" than excellent chess players.

Ralph T. Soule G->