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Brass Rat Sparks Controversy

Some Question Committee’s Decision to Include Female Figure

By Dan Cho


Controversy over the Class of 2004 brass rat design has prompted the Ring Committee to call for a class-wide vote.

Ring Committee chair Douglas J. Quattrochi ’04 announced yesterday that members of the Class of 2004 will decide whether their class ring should incorporate the traditional Institute Mens et Manus seal depicting two men, or a seal which depicts one man and one woman.

Last night, Ring Committee member and Class of 2004 President Patrick Y. Kim said he would send out an e-mail with an image of the current seal design, which features a man and woman, and instructions for voting to members of Class of 2004. The responses will determine whether the current design is kept or the woman will be replaced with a second male. Students are to cast their votes via e-mail by Wednesday evening.

In the event of an extremely close vote, two different versions of the ring could be made available for purchase.

Gender a recent controversy

The issue of gender representation on the MIT class ring has been hotly debated in recent years. Two years ago, the Class of 2002 Ring Committee modified the traditional seal to include a man and a woman in modern clothing. The Class of 2003 Ring Committee returned to a more traditional, all-male version of the seal, though they did alter smaller details of the seal, as per custom.

This past fall, the Ring Committee sent out an e-mail survey to the Class of 2004 requesting input on features to be included in the ring design. One of the survey questions specifically addressed the gender issue on the Institute seal. Of the 115 responses to this particular question, 62 preferred to have two men on the seal, according to statement Quattrochi posted in an online forum.

Leak leads to controversy

Controversy began this year when Daniel J. Serna ’04 said he had learned of the planned modification to the seal in the middle of January from a member of the Ring Committee. While Serna understood the desire of some classmates to represent women at the Institute, he felt that no alteration to the ring’s seal should be made while the official Institute seal remained unchanged.

“The class ring should not be used as a form of political statement,” Serna said. “A school ring should have the official school seal on it.”

Serna was also angry that the Ring Committee seemed to disregard the results of their own e-mail survey on the gender issue. Serna sent an e-mail to Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict and began an online discussion on a Web site maintained by classmate Jacob W. Faber ’04.

On Sunday evening, Serna drafted a petition to change the seal on the ring back to a traditional version featuring two males. Serna hopes to gather 500 signatures from the Class of 2004 and “force the Ring Committee to respect the decision of the class.”

Committee waffles on choice

At first, Quattrochi would neither confirm nor deny the presence of a woman on the Class of 2004 ring. He stressed that the fall survey was not meant as a class-wide referendum, but simply as a source of input for the Ring Committee to consider.

“The decision is not directly dependent on anything in the survey,” Quattrochi said. “The survey is not the decision.”

Quattrochi added that, while the committee would possibly change an extremely unpopular ring design, such matters would not be addressed until after the Ring Premier on March 17.

“They have to see it first before they can legitimately petition to have it changed,” Quattrochi said.

Quattrochi and the committee, however, changed their minds after a phone conversation with Serna on yesterday afternoon, the day Serna began distributing his petition. Soon after, Quattrochi announced the plan for a class-wide e-mail vote.

“We’re tired of second-guessing each other,” Quattrochi said.

The Ring Committee chair also preferred to make any changes sooner rather than later, hoping to avoid complications and delays with the company producing the 2004 ring.

Student opinion mixed

Class of 2004 students had mixed opinions on the gender issue.

“I don’t think not having a woman implies anything,” said Burcu N. Erkmen ’04. “I know I’m equal with any guy.”

“I personally would rather have the two men,” said Mana M. Shah ’04. As far as the traditional seal goes, I don’t think that’s where you want to make the change. I don’t find it offensive or anything”

“It represents the new MIT,” said Roy D. Gross ’04. “It shows how MIT is forward-thinking.

The students were generally willing to accept the outcome of vote, whatever it may be.

“If they want to go ahead and add [a woman], sure go ahead,” Erkmen said.

“It’s not a huge deal for me,” Gross said. “Either way, as long as the rest of the ring looks good, I’m in support of it.”