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COLUMN

Oh, Rats!

Andrew C. Thomas

Since I have the misfortune of having a last name beginning with a letter between “P” and “Z,” like much of the rest of the Class of 2004 I was unable to don my brass rat on Sunday evening. I could not yet wear this proud symbol of the Institute like many of my fellow classmates. I could not thrust my hand up in the air with others and make the Captain Planet reference I had been holding back for so long in anticipation of that day. And I couldn’t go home and spend an inordinate amount of time in front of freshmen making little adjustments to and admirations of my new hunk of gold.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy myself at the event. For many of us it was a much needed break from work in a hectic time of year. It was also a chance, for me at least, to genuinely catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, rather than simply waving hello in the Infinite. However, there was plenty to be unhappy about as well, including a non-alcoholic cash bar -- ridiculous, considering that the food was free and the drinks ludicrously overpriced -- and a general sense of disorder in lineups and gatherings. But what struck me most was the lack of community.

The ring delivery, like the premiere before it, was promoted as a class bonding activity. This, of course, assumes we had any real cohesion to start with. Because the event was mostly a collection of lines -- for Omnimax movie tickets, rings, food and, inevitably, complaints -- there was little opportunity for any meaningful large-scale physical gathering. People ended up sticking in pairs or small groups, and took those groups from line to line like rats in a maze.

Ironically, the biggest bonding activity throughout this has been attacking the ring committee. Many have taken the opportunity to vent their frustrations over the debacle to the nearest possible scapegoats. However, it’s not like this is the first major upset that the sophomore student body has seen to this point over the ring. The now-past incident over the gender of the ring mascots gave plenty of room to cloud the issue with political haze. Accusations of misogyny, favoritism and (I use the term loosely) corruption flew about freely. However, the incident did motivate a good deal of discussion among the student body.

Does the Ring Committee deserve to be tarred and feathered for the problems we’ve seen so far? I have no real right to complain, since like much of the class I didn’t volunteer my time or sanity to the committee. It wasn’t their fault that my ring didn’t make it to the Science Museum -- some of us wondered if Jostens would be stupid enough to label the delivery with the words “gold ” “rings ” or even “Jostens ” any of which would encourage an act of theft. However, it is fair to suggest that one of the troubles with taking responsibility for the design, premiere and delivery of the class ring is, simply, the responsibility. While I applaud the efforts of the entire RingComm in handling both the routine and unexpected events of the entire ordeal -- on a volunteer basis, no less -- I cannot honestly blame anyone for being angry and seeing them as a legitimate target for mudslinging if they volunteered for the job.

These social problems still come from a lack of a sense of community. Painful experiences are the main way that any kind of bonding happens on campus, and it’s usually on a smaller scale -- Aero-Astro’s Unified and Biology’s 7.02 Intro Lab are both well known for it. But the lack of group social activity doesn’t help either. While the ring delivery had advertised dancing, it wasn’t able to happen in the atmosphere of the museum. Monte Carlo Nights, the first 2004 class formal, was postponed and deformalized. The lack of a great event like the Odyssey Ball this year only hurts community spirit, meaning that the only class-wide bonding opportunities are these overblown spats about milder issues that can usually be resolved simply by waiting, resulting in a general increase in tension all around. One can only assume that this is what has led to people’s lack of pride in our class as a whole, and though I can only theorize, in others above and below as well.

On Tuesday the class was notified that the rings had been located and were being rush delivered, hopefully making appearances on fingers everywhere by Friday. If I’d thought about it in advance, I might have had my rat sized so that it could fit, as Akshay Patil suggests, upon my middle finger. [“A Boy and His Rat,” May 7] It would certainly make an appropriate statement, since anger seems to be the best bonding force our student body has at this time. But I’ve seen enough bad blood for one year. The sun is shining, the semester is almost over, and here at the halfway point in my undergraduate career, I’d rather bond with my classmates by playing a nice friendly game of softball than by arguing balls and strikes.