RAT Caps

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Buzz, the Georgia Tech mascot, wearing a RAT cap at freshmen orientation.

At Georgia Tech, RAT caps are old-fashioned hats that were traditionally worn by the entire freshman class during their first fall semester. The beanie-style hat has become a widely known Georgia Tech tradition.


Contents

Origin

In 1915, the ANAK Society at Georgia Tech established the RAT cap. The Society, which was also Georgia Tech’s largest leadership and most secretive society at the time [1][2], was developed to “honor outstanding juniors and seniors who have shown both exemplary leadership and a true love for Georgia Tech.” [3] Therefore, the hats were utilized to isolate first-year undergraduate students from the other members of the Georgia Tech community. By requiring all freshmen students to wear the noticeable gold headpiece, “RATs” would be clearly distinguished from other students. All incoming freshmen were expected to purchase their rat cap at the College Inn for one dollar as soon as possible.[4] However, since the majority of the 1917 Georgia Tech freshmen class took part in military training on a daily basis, they were not expected to wear their RAT caps. Instead, they were expected to wear a bronze collar insignia and buttons. These items symbolized a lower-ranking class member and essentially implied the same meaning as the RAT cap. [5] In 1948, Dean of Students George C. Griffin claimed that RAT caps help freshmen become acquainted more quickly with their classmates. [6] By the 1950s, RAT caps were sold at the Robbery, a store on Georgia Tech's campus. [6]

Rules

How to decorate a RAT cap

The majority of rules regarding RAT caps can be found on the Wikipedia page. However, several of these elements should be noted. In rule three, ‘”RAT” sings’ refers to pep rallies and homecoming activities [7]. According to the Technique article mentioned on the Wikipedia page, there is also a seventh rule:


7. Will protect the Ramblin’ Reck, but will not touch or tamper with it [7].


RATs were also expected to twirl their RAT cap on their fingers whenever the ‘Ramblin Reck’ song was played at a functioned school event, such as a pep rally [6]. Another notable regulation was one that required freshmen to wear their hat around campus as a symbol of their pride to be a member of the Georgia Tech community and campus [7].


Students were expected to follow specific rules with respect to decorating a RAT cap. These rules can also be viewed on the main Wikipedia page. Below is an excerpt from the Wikipedia page on RAT caps:

The RAT caps are decorated with the football team's scores, the freshman's name, hometown, major, expected graduation date, and "To HELL With georgia" emblazoned on the back of the cap. It is important that 'HELL' should be in all capital letters, while 'georgia' should be all lowercase. Students who intend to utilize the cooperative education program circle the top button on the cap, and fill it in once they have completed their involvement.[8]


Consequences/Disobedience

Freshmen who failed to follow the “RAT rules” were penalized for their actions. Any freshman who was seen not wearing their RAT cap would receive a haircut in the shape of the letter ‘T’ [1][2]. A select group of upperclassmen, known as the RAT Court, would trim the offender’s hair, place adhesive tape in the shape of a ‘T’ on the top of their head, and shave the remaining hair. The tape was then removed in a manner that would inflict as little pain as possible. Then a razor and shaving cream was used for final touches. [9] Students who were proven guilty of not wearing their RAT cap were reprimanded by having to endure this humiliation for a period of six weeks. [9]


Specific accounts of this punishment have been recorded. For example, in 1951, the Ramblin’ Wreck Club tried four freshmen at the same time for not wearing their RAT caps. They included Bob Armstrong, Jim Ferguson, Alvaro Fernandez, and Yamil Emendon. All four RATs were forced to shave their heads and faced campus-wide disgrace by having their names published in “The Technique”. [9]


During the years when RAT cap rules were mandatory, many students were accused of stealing them. This occurred because they either forgot to buy one or for some reason it had gotten lost. Freshmen would steal RAT caps from their classmates to avoid the consequences that would ensue of being seen without one. Several students cleverly placed pins over the entire cap to prevent it from being stolen. The sharp points of the pins pinched anyone who attempted to grab the hat, similar to the way a porcupine scares away possible predators. [10]


The consequence of receiving a ‘T’-shaped haircut was altered in 1952, when Georgia Tech became a coed institution. A new consequence regarding the female population was implemented. It was decided that any female freshmen who was seen without her RAT cap was required to wear hundreds of white and gold ribbons in her hair.[1][2]

Hazing Controversy

Compulsory rules regarding RAT caps were abolished when contemporary hazing laws were created. [2] However, there have been controversy regarding freshman band members and hazing with respect to RAT caps. In 2000, Senior Associate Dean of Students Karen Boyd thoroughly investigated the Georgia Tech band activities after a parent suspected a form of hazing inside the organization. [11] It appeared to Dr. Boyd that, instead of using the RAT caps for traditional purposes as they were intended, they were being used as a device to segregate the freshmen from the other older members of the band. [11] Specifically, the band’s ritual, called “RATs Without Hats” was deemed a form of hazing. At the end of each band practice, freshmen that misplaced their RAT caps would have to participate in a particular demeaning task to recover their hat.[11] In response, the senior band members explained that all RAT cap rituals were completely optional and voluntary and that no freshmen were forced to do anything that made them feel uncomfortable.[11] Nonetheless, Senior Associate Dean Boyd stated her concern regarding the band's image.[11] “I think that the difference between tradition and hazing is that one is just about pride” Boyd Stated. “It is simply that you are so proud of something that you just do it- not that it is suggested by somebody else. Hazing is more insidious. It creates an expectation of others, and it is not about keeping it going because it is what you’re proud of, but because it is what you should do.” [11]


The Georgia Tech marching band investigation helped to expose concerns regarding the distinct difference between hazing and traditions. Although many new members of the Georgia Tech community regarded RAT caps as a punishment, they were intended to create a sense of school spirit and to promote the development of friendships with fellow classmates.[7]

Changes and Current RAT Caps

Originally, RAT caps were gold with a white ‘F’ on the front of the hat that signified “freshman”. Over time, a white ‘T’ for “Tech” replaced the ‘F’. [5][2] Currently, the Georgia Tech logo is embedded into the front of the cap. The current design of the RAT cap is similar to the original, with a shortened depth and a very short brim. These two features of the RAT cap were the reasons why it stands out from most current hats worn on campus today. The caps were referred to as “ugly” or “nerdy” by most current freshmen. Nonetheless, personalizing a RAT cap with one’s name, hometown, major, and final scores of the football games is a tradition that still exists.[2] As of 1972, RAT caps were no longer required to be worn by freshmen students.[5] They are currently distributed at freshmen orientation as a symbol of tradition without imposing enforced rules.


These days, very few freshmen decide to wear their caps, especially since they are no longer mandatory. The primary reason for this is due to the awkward, old school fit, creating a “goofy” appearance for the person wearing it. Currently, only freshmen members of the Georgia Tech marching band are required to wear their RAT caps.[12] Over the past few decades, the long-lasting tradition has become obsolete. Most students will reveal the same reaction as former student Robert Busch when asked about his or her RAT cap: “I sat it on top of my dresser most of freshman year. I’m pretty sure I took it home, but I really couldn’t tell you where it is right now.”[12]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Reck, Parade Are Among Living Tech Traditions." The Technique [Atlanta, GA] 14 Sept. 1972, Volume 58 ed., Issue 5 sec.: 2. Print.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 "Traditions: Party Animals, Cake Races and RAT Caps Reflect Tech's Wacky Heritage." Tech Topics [Atlanta, GA] 2000, Volume 37 ed., Issue 1 sec.: 24. Print.
  3. http://cyberbuzz.gatech.edu/anak/
  4. "Frosh, Beware! Observe Traditions." The Technique [Atlanta, GA], Volume 27 ed., Issue 18 sec. Print.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Rat Caps Linger: An Old Tech Tradition." The Technique [Atlanta, GA] 14 Sept. 1972, Volume 58 ed., Issue 5 sec.: 7. Print.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "Frosh Hazing Has Gone But the Rat Caps Remain." The Technique [Atlanta, GA] 20 Sept. 1948, Volume 32 ed., Issue 4 sec.: 1. Print.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "Rat Caps and Cheering." The Technique [Atlanta, GA] 8 Nov. 1940, Volume 20 ed., Issue 7 sec.: 2. Print.
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_Tech_traditions#RAT_Caps
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "Unheeding Freshmen Receive T's." The Technique [Atlanta, GA], Volume 37 ed., Issue 22 sec.: 1. Print.
  10. "Rat Caps Good As Gold; Offered As Collateral." The Technique [Atlanta, GA] 16 Oct. 1936, Volume 26 ed., Issue 4 sec.: 1. Print.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 "What Is Hazing?" The Technique [Atlanta, GA] 20 Oct. 2000, Volume 86 ed., Issue 13 sec.: 1. Print.
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Out with the Old, In with the New." The Technique [Atlanta, GA], Volume 87 ed., Issue 18 sec.: 15. Print.
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