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COLUMN

MIT Student Spirit Rekindled

Veena Thomas

MIT holds an interesting place in the eyes of its students. It’s the institution we love to hate, criticize, and insult. As if MIT were a pesky little brother, we tease it and make disparaging remarks about it to each other in the family. Yet if someone outside the family, a playground bully perhaps, poked fun at the little sibling, we would immediately spring to his defense. He is family, after all. So it is with MIT. In the face of the Phi Sigma Kappa incident, MIT students who might normally claim they have little school spirit have rallied to MIT’s side.

Who can blame them? What could -- and probably should -- have been a minor incident anywhere else in the country has been blown far out of proportion. The past week saw news crews parked on Mass. Ave., and MIT was in the headlines once again. Students found MIT dominated television and newspaper reporting. This suddenly sparked protective feelings towards the Institute.

Such instances as Marcella Bombardieri’s article in The Boston Globe on October 27 have fueled this protective response. “A botched pre-Halloween prank sparked an explosion that sent a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student to the hospital yesterday, forced the evacuation of several campus buildings, shut down a section of Massachusetts Avenue, and occupied two bomb squads for the afternoon,” begins her story on the incident. Even the introduction provides a grossly unfair and misleading impression of the situation. Someone casually flipping open the newspaper could read the opening paragraph of the article, mutter “Those MIT kids think they’re so smart,” shake his head in disgust, and move on.

Most of us on campus know that paragraph sensationalizes the events of October 26. Judging solely from that one sentence with which Bombardieri chose to introduce her story, someone might be lead to believe a bomb had been planted in lobby 10, blowing up and reducing the Great Dome to rubble. The reality of the situation is much less newsworthy and much less sensational.

Where is the concern for the student injured? The focus of the paragraph should be on the student, instead of trying to undermine MIT’s reputation. Let’s rewrite Bombardieri’s opening paragraph. “An MIT student, advertising a fundraising party for leukemia, was injured yesterday as a theatrical device he was using malfunctioned.” Much less newsworthy, isn’t it? The truth is still there, yet the impression has changed drastically. Someone might move onto the next page, or worse yet, not buy the Globe.

The Globe is not the only media source guilty of sensationalism. Some news sources reported three students dead in an MIT explosion. Others more accurately, but still sensationally, showed footage of the bomb squad. MIT is newsworthy, it seems, and so is anything happening here. These days, any time someone here coughs, it’s on the news.

Bombardieri further wrote, “Though university officials downplayed the incident as just ‘an accident’ with no harmful intent, it furthers a growing image of MIT as an out-of-control campus where reckless, rambunctious students put themselves and others in danger.” A “growing image” of MIT? You’d think from what she says that no one in the world had heard of MIT except in ‘out-of-control’ situations. Someone would scarcely think she was referring to the best engineering school in the world. Perhaps it is the fact that we are such a premier institution that has the rest of the world rushing to judgment.

Remember the amazingly smart kid in middle school, the one that people mercilessly teased? Sometimes the general population can’t deal with someone of an amazing caliber, and they rush to point out any flaws in that person, real or imagined. People feel threatened by intelligence, and instead of trying to make themselves feel better by boosting themselves up, they try to pull others down. Much like paparazzi rushing to photograph celebrities in compromising situations, the media frenzy looks for opportunities to descend on MIT.

What if the situation were slightly different? What if the incident happened at another college, say, Boston University? Let’s imagine that BU was staging a musical, involving the same theatrical device, and during a rehearsal, it malfunctioned and sent a student to the hospital. Undoubtedly the media coverage (if any) and the immediate reaction afterwards would be quite different. There probably would have been a great deal more sympathy toward the students, and the police almost certainly wouldn’t search the theater group. Just because we’re MIT doesn’t mean we’re building bombs.

Not all the blame can be placed on the media, however; the city of Boston also decided to attack MIT. The relationship between the Institute and the surrounding area has been strained, and this incident only serves to reinforce the rocky relations. Boston firefighters evicted the members of Phi Kappa Sigma from their house, on two and one-half hours’ notice, for such violations as improperly stored paint in the basement. This only served to strengthen student spirit, as other fraternities volunteered to house the brothers suddenly rendered homeless.

Faced with what would have been a tremendous fight to allow the party to happen, the brothers understandably decided to cancel the party. Again the student body, realizing the real loser here was the leukemia fund, gathered together in support. Students collected money for the charity. Emails were sent out and signs posted urging students to gather for a rally at 77 Mass. Ave. to “show the world that MIT students care and that we won’t let unexpected setbacks stop us from helping others.”

Hopefully this incident will have a positive outcome. One way of ensuring this and to show your support is to contribute to the leukemia fund. It’s comforting to know that we can unite when those close to us are attacked. Perhaps, in the face of the media bully, we have spirit after all.