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Incident Underscores MIT's Anti-Rat Bias

Column by Anders Hove
Opinion Editor

For most students, the Stratton Student Center conjures up images of Athena terminals, LaVerde's, greasy food, or the Undergraduate Association. Many on campus seem to forget that, to a certain quarter of the MIT community, the Student Center is more than just a place to hang out. To the rats on campus, it's home.

MIT's rat community has rarely been vocal. Given the biases most members of the student body hold about rats, it can be hard to "come out" as a rat on campus. Recent events, however, have forced rats to re-examine their place in the community. Many have decided to take a stand in favor of "rathood."

Most of the hubbub centers around an incident in Lobdell Court in which several students sighted one of our furry friends minding his own business in the wild rice. According to one account [Rat Was a Surprise, Sept 30], a student shouted, "Hey look - a rat!" at which point Lobdell employees took up arms and joined the growing lynch mob. The rat was chased away, and the rice was discarded, having been "soiled" by contact with the despicable "rodent."

Two factors of the "Lobdell Incident" galvanized the rat community. First, rats had previously accepted the ignorance of the student body. After all, few students have had frequent contact with rats. Given that students and rats have lived separately for so long, one might expect them to feel uncomfortable when placed together suddenly in a social setting. But the outright rejection of the rat population demonstrates once and for all the inferior and discriminatory treatment given to rats on campus.

Second, after the sighting, a pack of administration bigwigs (none of whom had even been present at the incident) turned up to announce that, in fact, no rats reside in Lobdell. Campus Activities Complex Director Phillip J. Walsh, ARA General Manager Rob McBurney, and even the Director of the Safety Office John M. Fresina agreed that no rats were present in the Student Center ["Students See Mice In Lobdell Court," Oct. 7]. Walsh, however, stated that "mice do occur." Since when do living creatures "occur?" And why did so many people rush out to declare Lobdell's ancient and proud rat population non-existent, instead crudely labeling the sighting a mouse problem?

There could be only one reason why the Student Center's officialdom was so quick to deny the existence of the MIT rat community: They were scared stiff that, should rats be given even a hint of equal rights and equal treatment, MIT would soon find itself submerged in another tortured "dialogue" concerning its treatment of historically oppressed minorities.

Since the Lobdell incident, MIT's rats have attempted to organize themselves to combat the ignorance and prejudice that pervade the student body with regard to rat-related issues. Even as the rat community begins its campaign, it continues to confront new examples of species discrimination and even outright hatred. For instance, several "RAMIT" posters have been inexplicably removed from Infinite Corridor bulletin boards shortly after having been posted. World press organs have uncritically accepted scientifically questionable evidence that the pneumonic plague is somehow transmitted by rats, fueling anti-ratist agitation on a world scale. Most importantly, Lobdell continues to cover-up the existence of the rat community, and last week even went so far as to hire a team of exterminators to eliminate its "mouse problem."

In spite of the setbacks, some progress is being made. On Oct. 5, the Student Center held a fire drill in which all primates were asked to leave the building in order that the rats be given free reign in Lobdell. Needless to say, RAMIT is already pressuring the MIT administration to schedule a rat-rights speech during next Rush. All members of the MIT community need to make themselves aware about the growing problem of inter-species discrimination.