Editorial Notebooks

Explore feelings on RIBS

I find myself concerned after reading Vice President for Student Life Tim Sams’ editorial and response to the depiction of the RIBS acronym on campus in last week’s Poly. RIBS awareness day, for better or for worse, is part of the set of traditions that reside on this campus. It is a day undertaken by the students and meant to elicit a response of humor from the students. There is special emphasis being made here on one key point: students. Why, then, is the response to the day creating a “group of campus professionals to explore the RIBS acronym?”

Why not ask the students how they feel, why not poll the student body of their opinion? Don’t just ask the student government or the students who attend your office hours, reach out beyond the walls of the Rensselaer Union. And if such a poll has been undertaken, why aren’t these results being made public? I’m distraught that tuition money is going toward a group of campus professionals researching a phenomenon that is best explored by a polling of students.

If there is such a discomfort surrounding the RIBS acronym, students (both female and male alike) should feel free to speak their opinion in response to it. The same stands if there is apathy, or approval of the day. A quick search on the Poly website, while far from exhaustive, shows no mention of RIBS since October of 2009, and that was in a letter to the editor commending a Poly editor at the time for defending the usage of the term RIBS, a female editor no less! Since then, three more RIBS awareness days have passed. Either students are uncomfortable with the day, afraid to speak out, or there is no issue here.

Instead of creating a group of professionals, just ask the student body how they feel and release an unbiased publication of these results. If there’s a significant part of the student body, or a small subset thereof, that’s offended by it, explore ways to get those students to respectfully express their distaste for the day themselves. There’s no need to get a group of professionals involved. Empower the students with their own voices. This is fully in line with my interpretation of how “[CLASS is] our comprehensive tool for continued student empowerment and success … [and how it] is central to how we will articulate the distinct nature of our living and learning community.” On the other hand, claiming students are being “demoralized” and proceeding from there without an understanding of student opinion accomplishes no such thing.

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a previously editorial entitled “RIBS: far cry from misogyny,” written by former Editor in Chief Kelly Lottman ’11 .

RIBS–Ratio-Induced Bitch Syndrome. This is the ever-so-lovely term coined to describe RPI females. Supposedly, the surplus of males turns females into mean teases. The previous definition, which appears annually in The Poly’s summer issue feature “The (almost) all-inclusive dictionary of Rensselaer terms,” has been the subject of a surprising amount of criticism. Poly editors have heard everything from gentle suggestions that we replace this text with a definition of “The Ratio” to concerns that we are “infusing first-year students with a negative perspective about our women,” not to mention being called “misogynists” several times in one breath by a particularly zealous young lady. While I love to hear from readers about how we could improve, I think the concerns about the RIBS text are rather inflated.

I believe a good sense of humor and a realistic look at the actions of women will go a lot further in advancing feminist ideals than smothering all perceived negative speech with the cloak of political correctness. While RIBS is understandably a controversial topic, I was shocked that people were upset with our seemingly harmless sentence in the summer issue. If anything, the definition almost seems to disapprove of the concept, sardonically calling it an “ever-so-lovely term” and referring to the syndrome’s existence as “supposed.” This statement was nestled within a larger feature that contained many other campus phrases, often defined in a clearly jocular tone. No sane person could read that page and honestly come away with the impression that all Poly editors are misogynists who believe every RPI woman is “a mean tease.” Nor should any mentally stable young woman become “infused with a negative perspective” about herself after reading those words. To remove that definition—a definition that is surprisingly non-offensive as RIBS jokes go—is wholly unnecessary.

I won’t delve into the delicate issue of whether RIBS actually exists, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s a perceived cultural phenomenon, true or not. And it’s given way to a number of jokes particular to RPI’s cultural landscape—a landscape sparsely populated with females and fraught with the resultant tension. Notice that I said jokes about RIBS. Jokes. Because that’s almost all it is: a recurring joke about this alleged cultural peculiarity. I’ve never heard of someone being personally called a [ratio-induced] bitch; I’ve heard discussions in which an alleged incident of RIBS was recounted (similar to any old relationship drama) but I’ve never once heard the term being used destructively. Much like any other satirical joke, RIBS functions as a way for a campus with a bizarrely lopsided male-female ratio to let off some steam and laugh about these highly-charged issues.

An administrator might frown upon the use of the term RIBS in the school’s newspaper for another

reason. Rather than simply being considering whether RIBS is an inappropriate or offensive term to the Institute’s eyes, someone in the business of running the school has additional concern for the image we project to people outside our community. It’s a valid concern, and RIBS certainly won’t go far in attracting potential applicants, but The Poly’s role isn’t to be PR vehicle for RPI. Our purpose is to keep the community informed, and a feature aimed at acclimating our freshman class to RPI’s culture—including the not-sopretty bits they won’t see in a glossy prospectus—is perfectly in line with that goal.

If you disagree, or if you can share an experience in which talk about RIBS was used in a destructive and hateful fashion, I’d love it if you sent a Letter to the Editor.