News

Was last year's ring design influenced by fraternities?

CLARIFICATION TO THIS ARTICLE: Disclosure: The author of this article is a friend of the Class of 2017 RingComm chair, Anthony J. Occidentale, and the vice chair, Emily M. Van Belleghem.

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.



13 Comments
1
Anonymous almost 6 years ago

Surely your pre-existing friendship with the current chair (Occidentale) didn't influence this article at all, right? (This is based on the 10 second facebook search that revealed several pictures of you together at the top of the page). How do you comment on that? It would seem this is something that should be disclosed.

5 out of 7 chairs seems a bit ridiculous, but how does it continue to occur if the class councils are the ones selecting the committees? Are the class councils choosing the students blind of their affiliation, or are they aware of it?

Were the controversial icons on the rings proposed by the members of this fraternity?

Lastly, the star subject seems a bit of a stretch, the chi phi symbol seems to be two overlapping 6 pointed stars in different colors, based on my searches on wikipedia.

2
Anonymous almost 6 years ago

All of this in light of the fact that the 17s ring is ridiculous.

"Let's put a dog on our ring!"

"Yeah!"

3
Anonymous almost 6 years ago

As someone who was on a past council and selected Ringcomm members, Chi Phis make up a nontrivial fraction of the applicant pool (because I believe they're all encouraged to apply). I would imagine there is some degree of self-selection that contributes to the problem.

4
Patricia Z. Dominguez almost 6 years ago

Comment 1 - Thank you to the commenter for bringing this information to attention.

It is true that I had a pre-existing friendship with Anthony, but my possible conflict of interest in writing this article was partly addressed and dealt with by having another reporter conduct interviews with him, and Anthony was able to put me in contact with the other people mentioned in the article. In a community as small as MIT, it is unavoidable that reporters sometimes know the people they mention in their articles.

To address the second point, it is true that class councils are the ones who vote for new ring committees; however, "By the UA constitution, the president and two other members of class council select the ring committee. They are advised by the previous RingComm chair and vice chair," according to the Class of 2017 Council president, Liana Ilutzi. This makes the fact that 6 (not 5 - this was confirmed by The Tech today) out of 7 past ring chairs being Chi Phi members extremely concerning, seeing as each Chi Phi chair had significant influence in choosing each years committee.

Here were the past chairs that were affiliated with the fraternity:

2016: Patrick Lowe

2015: Matt Abel

2014: Ishaan Kumar

2013: Stephen Frost

2012: Graham Van Schaik

2011: Mitch Westwood

As to the third point: yes, I have it on the record that one of the Chi Phi members on the committee this year was the one who suggested a twelve-pointed ring design. His name is off the record.

The last comment references wikipedia, but on the Chi Phi website, it is listed under Chi Phi Symbols that The Chakett is the twelve-pointed badge worn by Candidates for Membership of the Fraternity. Here is the link: https://www.chiphi.org/newmember/section/seven/

Again, thanks for bringing these facts to our attention.

5
Anonymous almost 6 years ago

I agree with comment 3. As someone who was involved with selecting ringcomm members in the past, there is a huge bias in the people that apply. Every year there are complaints about not enough people from the east side of campus or not enough unaffiliated people, but the fact is, there are drastically less of those people who apply, so it's really hard to choose more of them. When I was part of the selection committee, I think there were maybe 3 people from east campus total who applied in an applicant pool of about 70. We can't select people if they don't even apply.

I also think there is some definite bias in this article, and for the sake of honest reporting, it should really be disclosed.

Finally, keep in mind that X and I are two of the most common roman numerals... and this is the class of XVI... it seems far-fetched to point out every time there's an 'X' or an 'I' and claim that it's a Chi Phi reference.

6
Anonymous almost 6 years ago

Perhaps Chi Phi only selects members based on RingComm Chair potential. Did anyone think about that?

7
Anonymous almost 6 years ago

Lost in these comments is the fact that Aspects of the Class of 2017 Ring Premiere were changed from previous years.

The established tradition that members of past ring committees would attend premieres is fantastic, but evolving 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 is totally unprofessional, disruptive and rude for anybody to do and even more so for students attending the number One school in the world.

The Class of 2017 RingComm should be commended for deciding to allow past ring committees to RSVP to this years premiere on the condition that they [would be] well behaved,

It's sad that students have to promise to be Good before being allowed to attend, but if there is a possibility of disruptive individuals attending, then so be it.

Kudo's should be given to the whole Committee for proposing changes to the 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. 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. That is an act of classiness from these Sophomores that should be commended and used as the Model for future classes.

MIT is a community of mature young men and women and should act like and be treated as such. It's not high school anymore!!

8
Anonymous almost 6 years ago

As a member of the Class of 2016, I am disappointed that, for the rest of my life, I will be wearing a ring that does not represent the values of MIT. Is there any way that the ring can be modified or redone to remove these references?

9
Anonymous almost 6 years ago

Wow. The Tech has stuped to reporting conspiracies. Can't wait for next week to read about how 9/11 and the Boston Bombings never happened!

10
Anonymous almost 6 years ago

"As to the third point: yes, I have it on the record that one of the Chi Phi members on the committee this year was the one who suggested a twelve-pointed ring design. His name is off the record."

As a previous (non-Chi Phi) member of the Ring Committee I can speak to the fact that if this indeed is true (that you "have on record"), then this is probably the most egregious violation of this entire ordeal. We strictly hold to not disclosing what is discussed in our meetings in any form or fashion for any reason. Disappointed for what this means for the future of what was once such a great committee.

Particularly concerning as it seems quite likely (whether you deny this or not) that the source may have been your good friend and committee chair. Hypocrisy at its finest.

11
Anonymous over 5 years ago

As a member of the class of 2017 who has nothing to do with hackathons or makeMIT, I'm more offended by that being on the ring (largely and obviously) than any silly small chi phi references. There's no way make mit would be on our ring if one of the ringcomm members wasn't involved in that organization. This article feels anti-Greek, with it's excusal of the makeMIT symbol and persecution of (possible and doubtable) chi phi symbols.

12
Anonymous over 5 years ago

Comment 11:

I'm pretty sure no one from the football team is on RingComm, yet there is a football reference... I'm pretty sure there are people from EC on the committee, and there is a roller coaster reference... From another 2017 to another, you sound silly picking at that. Look at the reasoning for it directly from the article...

"A MakeMIT symbol was also said to be associated with a member on this years 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 its the only reason it is on the ring, is like linking the fact that a member is from East Campus, and thats the only reason a roller coaster is on the ring."

13
Anonymous over 5 years ago

Except the roller coaster was a big fucking deal. Searching for "MIT roller coaster"; along gets a ton of search results. Everyone knew about the roller coaster, and it felt like a genuine part of the MIT culture and experience for everyone across campus.

The football win was a huge one for our entire school we had a team go undefeated! We could all be really proud of that and tell people "we actually do have a football team, and they're pretty damn good. It was shared everywhere, there were articles in major news outlets it was also a big freaking deal.

MakeMIT had barely 200 people at it. Is that really that significant? By that logic, "due to the efforts of people in our class and their passion for hardware hacking", we should put HackMIT on the ring which brought 1,000 people.

I think it's perfectly alright to question the placement of the MakeMIT logo, and I'm 100 sure that the person running it that was also on ringcomm would have proposed it.

THAT SAID the MakeMIT logo was perfectly position to go where it is. Everywhere there's a giant "M" on that part of the ring anyways, and adding a few gear rectangles on the outside is an easy and subtle reference to make, like the football stripes on the Kresge. I thought it was a neat addition and well-designed, and have nothing against someone on ringcomm saying "hey, this would fit great right here really easily, and was a big event at MIT." But I would definitely hesitate to reduce the significance/fame of the EC roller coaster to that of MakeMIT.