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Woman on ’07 Ring Sparks Controversy

By Zachary Ozer and Benjamin Wasserman

The 2007 Brass Rat was unveiled last Sunday night, reviving previous years’ controversy by featuring a woman on the ring’s seal shank.

The reaction to the ring’s design was mixed. Approximately 10 students left the premiere immediately after the Ring Committee debuted the design for the seal. Opinions varied on the general design.

Michael S. Hall ’07, one of those who walked out, said before the premiere began that he would walk out if there was a woman on the ring. Yet even while Hall and others walked out, cheering in support of the seal grew louder, eventually drowning out the booing.

After the ceremony, Ring Committee Chair Pravin R. Palaniappan ’07 said that he thought the presentation went well. “People walked out, but we expected it,” he said. “I’m pleased with how the class took it.”

The 2007 design revives debates from recent years over the alteration of the official MIT seal to include a woman. The 2002 Brass Rat was previously the only ring to include a woman, though Class of 2004’s design had originally called for a woman on the seal. After information leaked that the male scholar would be replaced by a woman, the class held a referendum which eventually caused the Ring Committee to return to a seal with two men.

Tributes to hacks, Red Sox

The bezel features a large, menacing beaver juggling an hourglass, a compass, and a diploma. The diploma floats in the air, tantalizingly close, but still out of reach. The Stata Center and Kresge Auditorium fill out the background, with IHTFP subtly placed in the windows of Kresge and a plastic cup in a tower of Stata. A shower head sprouts from the branches beneath the beaver, symbolizing the final year of freshman 8.01 (Physics I) showering night.

The class shank features the numbers 2007 and 140 to commemorate MIT’s 140th graduating class. A Wright brothers’ airplane flies above the dome in honor of when, on the 100th anniversary of flight, hackers placed a scale model of the plane on the Building 10 dome. A banner hangs on the dome with the word “curse” written backwards, in honor of the Red Sox’s World Series victory and reversing the curse of the Bambino. At the bottom, an Athena owl flies with raised wings that form the words “punt” and “tool.”

The seal shank departs from the official MIT seal by featuring a female worker and a male thinker with the school motto “mens et manus” written beneath them. Below the school motto, the light of knowledge burns, surrounded by a laurel wreath of victory.

A history of controversy

For the past several years, each Ring Committee has dealt with the issue of altering the seal to have a woman. The Class of 2002 is the only class before the Class of 2007 whose ring features a woman on the seal. The 2004 Ring Committee originally planned to include a woman on the seal, but changed their design at the last minute. According to the 2007 Ring Committee’s publication, the alteration was made to “denote 2007’s even gender ratio and honor the first woman president of MIT. The tradition of MIT is of progress.”

Last year, the controversy did not surround the seal, but rather the overall design of the ring and the composition of the Ring Committee itself. The 2006 ring design included twin stars on the bezel and two Greek letters on the skyline, sparking controversy about the committee’s high percentage of Greek-affiliated members.

This year’s committee featured seven women and five men. Fraternities, sororities, and dormitories were all represented, as were all major ethnic groups, though some felt that groups should have been represented proportionally.

During the fall of 2004, the 2007 Ring Committee set up an informal Web survey to get feedback from the class about the ring design. According to Palaniappan, 700 to 800 students replied, and a majority of the class wanted a woman on the ring.

Design receives mixed remarks

While many expressed their approval of the overall design of the ring, some who had not walked out during the premiere still said they had reservations. Kyle M. Baxter ’07 said that he liked the ring, “but it could be interpreted as bad that the woman is a worker, and the man is a scholar.”

Many expressed anxiety about a woman appearing on the seal even before revealing the design. Katherine E. West ’07 said she had heard that there would be a woman on the ring. “This school has traditionally been male dominated, and we can’t just go back and change history,” she said. “It’s good to know we got through that.”

Hall expressed his belief that the female on the seal was “all a political thing based on what’s happening at Harvard. It’s a feminist thing, and they’re trying to cater to that.” He also expressed his desire to see the results of the survey conducted by the Ring Committee.

Christopher J. Coleman ’07, who walked out with Hall, said that he planned to circulate a petition and get at least 200 signatures of students who would purchase a two-man seal, then give it to the manufacturer. “That’s $100,000 worth of business,” he said. “We’re talking about a lot of money.” Coleman also criticized the committee for not being representative of the Institute because the committee is “two-thirds female.”

Other students, initially displeased with the alteration of the seal, have begun to reconsider their position. “I wanted a more traditional ring,” said Shyam S. Raghavan ’07. “They’re trying to make ring for 1100 people, and if the majority voted for it, then that’s how it has to be. There should be only one ring per class.”

Others expressed relief that the 2007 Ring Committee, in striving to design a highly individual ring, did not produce something overly ornate.

Erica M. Pavao ’07 expressed concerns about the cosmetic appearance of the ring. “The woman looks weird,” she said. “She has a strange head. The beaver’s also kind of scary, but I think the juggling should be a tradition.”

Distribution under tight security

Distribution of the ring will occur at the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse under tight security. Students will be provided with transportation from campus and are encouraged not to bring any electronic devices. All persons are subject to security search at the door, and intoxicated persons will not be given entry. Two forms of identification will be required to enter, including one form of picture identification.