Every year, a group of MIT students is chosen by its respective class council to design MIT’s iconic class ring, the Brass Rat, as well as organize the annual Ring Premiere and Ring Delivery ceremony. This prominent role exposes the group to criticism.
The past two ring committees, or RingComms, have each had ten out of their eleven members affiliated with fraternities and sororities. Additionally, in the past seven years, at least five RingComm chairs were members of Chi Phi, including last year’s chair. This year’s ring committee also included two members of that fraternity.
These facts have led students to speculate that fraternity symbols have been incorporated into the ring, particularly those of the Chi Phi fraternity.
In an interview with The Tech, an anonymous RingComm member pointed out some of the symbols called into question on the Class of 2016 Brass Rat. The first was on the Hacker’s Map, which features an engraved “XVI” for the Class of 2016, but the circle around the I makes it look like a Greek letter “phi.” (The X is the “chi.”) The second is located on the class shank. Here, the screws on the “T” in “MIT” are turned such that the letters “chi” and “phi” are also noticeable.
According to the Class of 2016 RingComm’s website, the “XVI” symbols on the Hacker’s Map are supposed to represent a compass rose, declination scale, and a flat screw head, and the screw on the class shank was made to look like an “X” to distinguish a subtle vertical “XVI.”
The last symbol pointed out by the anonymous source was a twelve-pointed star etched onto the Boston skyline side of the bezel. Although the star signifies 2012, the year the Class of 2016 entered MIT, a twelve-pointed star is also a symbol of Chi Phi.
Patrick Lowe ’16, last year’s RingComm chair, wrote in an email to The Tech that the only meanings behind the symbols are what’s mentioned in the material published by the Class of 2016 ring committee on its website.
This year’s RingComm said they attempted to make sure that there were no symbols with ulterior meanings on the Class of 2017 Brass Rat. “Going into this committee, I was very aware about past committees and the questionable symbols they put on the ring,” said Anthony Occidentale ’17, the chair of this year’s committee, in an interview with The Tech. “When symbols or features were proposed, we ensured the importance of them to members in our class firstmost and fact-checked to make sure it didn’t stand for any type of second meaning.”
With regard to the twelve-pointed star, which had been one of the options suggested for this year’s ring design, Occidentale added, “We definitely wanted a shooting star on our ring but had to shoot down some requests that would be labeled [as standing] for something else. The thirteen-pointed star we ended up with was the perfect fit. The number 13 is thought to be an unlucky number, yet a shooting star is said to be extremely lucky. We all luckily entered MIT in 2013 and this paradoxical shooting star overall seemed to fit a lot of things associated with MIT.”
A MakeMIT symbol was also said to be associated with a member on this year’s RingComm. “That had no bearing on the fact we put a subtle reference to their logo on the ring,” said Occidentale. “The class ring represents our experience here and significant events that occurred during our time here … MakeMIT is the first ever hardware hackathon here and was started up due to the efforts of people in our class and their passion for hardware hacking. Linking the fact that a committee member is a part of MakeMIT, and that it’s the only reason it is on the ring, is like linking the fact that a member is from East Campus, and that’s the only reason a roller coaster is on the ring.”
Aspects of the Class of 2017 Ring Premiere were also changed from previous years. According to Occidentale, there was an established tradition that members of past ring committees would attend premieres. In practice, this evolved into “a drinking fest where members would show up drunk, drink in Kresge, and boo the committee on stage while chanting that their ring was better,” wrote Occidentale. He stated that he wished for this year’s premiere to go differently.
As a result, the Class of 2017 RingComm ultimately decided to allow past ring committees to RSVP to this year’s premiere “on the condition that they [would be] well behaved,” said Occidentale. He disclosed that last year’s RingComm chair did not RSVP, but was still granted entry.
The Campus Activities Complex (CAC) and Student Activities Office (SAO) took action this year by closing off the choir balcony in Kresge Auditorium; their reasoning for the decision was that “past Ring Committees have utilized this space for Premiere events, however, in recent years, some student attendees have been found with alcohol in that space, which poses a significant safety risk for those individuals, as that space is raised above the auditorium floor and has a low railing,” according to an email to The Tech from Joel Pettigrew, a program coordinator in the SAO.
According to Emily Van Belleghem ’17, vice-chair of this year’s committee, there are currently attempts being made to change current premiere traditions. “It has been thoroughly discussed with the 2017 Ring Committee that if we are fortunate enough to be invited to the 2018 Ring Premiere we will treat their event with the utmost respect,” she said in an email to The Tech. “We believe it is important to remember that this is their moment and to honor them, their class, and the ring they have worked so hard to present.”
This year’s RingComm also made a conscious effort to ensure that every member of the Class of 2017 received a ring. “That’s the goal. I’m the treasurer, and my goal is to get 100 percent participation [in ring sales],” said Antoine Nasr ’17. “At graduation, I want to be able to see everyone in my class turn their ring from the beaver facing towards them to the beaver facing away, as per tradition.” This year’s RingComm provided subsidies where their budget allowed, as past ring committees did, as well as a RingComm financial aid scholarship.
This year’s Ring Delivery is scheduled to take place on April 22, at the Institute of Contemporary Art.