The Stand recently published an article called “Invitation-Only or Overpriced: The Problem with Balls.” In her article, the author ably points out the elitist sense of St Andrews balls, both in terms of attitude, and accessibility. However, I would like to take this one step further: elitism at this university extends beyond just balls and the attitudes surrounding them.
St Andrews, we would all agree, is an elite university. Whether in terms of academics or name recognition, we figure near the top in the UK, if not globally. This elite-ness has its ugly side, however. We’re all used to seeing someone with a Louis Vuitton bag in lectures, or Gucci loafers buying beer at Tesco. The exclusive attitude surrounding the so-called public balls is well described by Holly in her article, so I won’t delve further into that subject here.
This attitude aside, I still think there’s a side to elitism that we’ve left unexplored, which I’ll call objective elitism. In simplest terms, things here cost money, a lot of money, and that’s a barrier to entry for a lot of students. £37 for the opening ball isn’t money to throw away, and that’s not including the price of an outfit. It doesn’t matter how inclusive or with what open arms the KKC invite the community, students who can’t afford it won’t attend.
Besides the obvious example of the balls, we can find this kind of objective elitism all throughout the bubble. A primary social activity here is going out to the bars or the union, which costs money. If you can’t afford to buy drinks, it’ll be very difficult to have fun on a night out. Eating out with friends is another solid drain on finances for students strapped for cash.
House of Horror also springs to mind. Nobody would accuse this event of being elitist, at least not in the same way that the balls are – it just doesn’t have the air or attitude of a KKC event. Even so, tickets went for £30 at face value, and who knows the markups on resale tickets. This is what I mean by objective elitism: even without the attitude, the fiscal barrier to entry is still there, just as prohibiting as the most exclusive ball.
Red gowns, taxi rides, alcohol for pres, Dervish after a night out, the examples are endless. To be involved in St Andrews life a student will have to spend money at some point, and not every student can spend as freely or as comfortably as the most fortunate inhabitants of the bubble.
I’m not so extreme as to suggest that every event and service in this town should be free, far from it. I recognize the practical impossibility of such a suggestion, or at least the difficulties that would arise from implementing such a policy. I would like to make clear, however, that there’s more to elitism than just attitude, and that an appearance of accessibility is not the same as a really inclusive event. As much as it is important to fight an elitist or exclusivist attitude, it’s equally important to realise that as long as events cost as much money as they do, there will still be students who are left out. We can’t pat ourselves on the back yet, just by campaigning against elitist attitudes. We need to also pay attention to the much more basic exclusivity of finance.