It is no secret to anyone that St Andrews has an elitism problem; in 2016 only 56.6% of its intake had been state educated, one of the lowest statistics across all UK universities, and lower even than Cambridge. It’s a common sight to see your friends toting Chanel sunglasses and Louis Vuitton bags around town, and we’re known for the astronomical prices of our student accommodation. Why then, do we as students not only avoid doing anything to dispel this idea, but actively encourage it with our culture of balls?
The Kate Kennedy Opening Ball is a staple event in the social calendar for freshers, but with tickets costing £37 this year, many were excluded from the event because of the strain on finances. At a time when people are trying to join in as much as possible, why do we strive to create this dichotomy between those who can afford it and those who can’t?
Furthering this culture of elitism surrounding balls, which remain an intrinsic part of life in St Andrews, is the several invite only balls which crop up each year, most significantly Advent Ball. However, whilst this is technically a ball, they tend not to publicise it at all, so it can be treated more like a private event.
The Other Guys, have however taken a completely different stance with their invite only ball, as they’ve publicised it on Facebook, and had a preview in The Saint. This begs the question, if it is to be treated as a private event, why would they bother promoting their invite-only ball? The only conclusion that I can come up with is that it must be an issue of image; they want to be seen as exclusive, mysterious and elite, and publicising their essentially private event is the ideal way to create this aesthetic.
Welly Ball is another event traditionally shrouded in suspicion due to the administrative process. Unconfirmed rumours suggest that the “raffle” for table tickets is no raffle at all, with the committee just choosing their friends as the recipients of the much sought-after tickets. Even if the process is completely legitimate, Welly Ball still suffers from the infectious elitism due to the £65 tickets for dinner, and the need to find a group of 10 people all willing to give up 13 Pablos worth of cash; what about the people who travel in smaller, more intimate social circles? Why must they be excluded too?
However, when we look at the more transparent alternatives, such as Mermaid’s Christmas Ball, the prospects are similarly bleak. Whilst the tickets are free for everyone to buy, they sell out immensely quickly, before appearing on Facebook minutes later with drastically hitched prices. This culture of buying up extra tickets for the sole purpose of reselling them simply exploits how central ball culture is to St Andrews, and again results in financial elitism by excluding those not lucky enough to get it first time, and not rich enough to buy it at the re-selling prices.
Ultimately, St Andrews already has a fundamental equality and elitism issue, and the Ball Culture is doing nothing to help that. Something needs to change in order to make this tradition sustainable, and to enable everyone to have the chance to make the most of their time here.