A deep dive into the makeup and politics of the biggest events and societies.
Illustration: Calum Mayor
Your university experience is often not defined by the time you spend in your tutorials. Rather, what defines the way you feel towards the four years you spend at St Andrews will be two things: the events you go to, and the societies you participate in. In the last month alone, there have been five fashion shows, several balls, and countless club nights.
As Events writers, we attend more of these events than most students and pay more attention to the good and to the bad. We have found that in frequenting a wide scope of events, one question has come up time and time again: are these events — the people who organise them, the people who are the face of them, and the people who attend them — really representative and inclusive of the St Andrews student body?
Why does this matter?
Why is this even important? Why does representation within our events scene matter? Students come to university to grow as people as well as academics, to find friends and experience the world independently, so to speak. It is important that the events attended and societies joined by students are therefore reflective and representative of their identities.
Whether this comes in the form of seeing an event run by someone with a similar ethnic background or celebrating your gender, the representation of students in events can play a huge role in students' formative experiences at St Andrews.
As an individual, not only do you want to see yourself represented and be able to engage with people you identify with. You want to feel like you can channel your inner Louis Armstrong, or stroll down a catwalk, or take your favourite wellies out for the night: sometimes all at once.
Perhaps more importantly, creating an inclusive and equal opportunity events scene is conducive to fostering a diverse environment at the University more broadly in the future. Events and societies inevitably attract many students to apply to St Andrews — whether that’s through students’ TikTok videos, Instagram posts, or the University’s own advertising — and if prospective applicants don’t feel they’ll be represented there, they may feel as if they won’t feel included as a student here either.
ABPH Ball 2022. Photo: Caroline Vining
How diverse is St Andrews?
The statistics we obtained from the University show that St Andrews is relatively diverse compared to the broader UK. We focused on the demographics of admitted students in 2021/22. The gender breakdown shows 58 per cent of students identifying as female and 42 per cent identifying as male. Comparatively, the Higher Education Student Statistics (HESA) reported 57 per cent of students across the UK identifying as female, and 42 per cent identifying as male. In terms of ethnicity, St Andrews reports 69 per cent of students as white, and 29 per cent as BAME. The HESA reported 73 per cent of students as white and 20 per cent as BAME. As far as both gender and ethnicity ratios, these statistics reaffirm that the St Andrews student body is proportionately higher in diversity than the UK university average.
It is important to note that the demographic statistic of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) is used to identify all non-white students, meaning that whilst some groups may advertise a high number of BAME members, this does not necessarily correlate to high levels of diversity balanced evenly across all ethnicities. For example, whilst the percentage of Asian identifying students in St Andrews has ranged from 12 - 20 per cent since 2018, consistently only 1 per cent of the university population has been Black over the last four years. Middle Eastern demographics are not reported. The grouping BAME is therefore a healthy way to approach the concept of diversity, as long as we are mindful that the diversity promoted is a broad categorisation of a wide variety of distinct ethnic groups.
Representation in the Students’ Association
In conversation with Juan Pablo Rodriguez, outgoing President of the Students’ Association, he reaffirmed the progress that the University has made in fostering greater cultural diversity in their events and societies in recent years. As a member of the community since 2017, Mr Rodriguez steered the University through the post-COVID period, a difficult time for events and societies. Whilst some cultural societies never fully recovered post-pandemic, he observed that “there has been progress in the wider offerings of events from different cultures because of a greater variety of people from different cultures arriving in St Andrews”.
Expanding on this student-led approach, he told us “the BAME network does an excellent job of welcoming minorities into the University and helping them find their place with a hands-on approach based on student initiative aided by the Students' Association structures”. Naturally, the engagement of different groups fluctuates depending on where more students are coming from each year. However, as the University expands its geographic reach, students are putting in the work to create forums where they can connect with similar people.
Mr Rodriguez ended our conversation with an eloquent reflection on the progress that the University has made thus far and a hopeful message of is yet to come, telling us “people want to be heard, and people want to hear them”.
Christmas Ball 2022. Photo: Louise Anderbjork
Representation in Fashion Shows
Fashion shows have had a long run as St Andrews social staples, raising student satisfaction quotas and emptying our wallets. With a significant online marketing presence, their influence marks an undeniable part of the student experience here; as well as generating invaluable publicity for the University as a whole. The biggest shows are attended by huge external corporate sponsors and regularly hit national headlines: gracing the pages of The Guardian, Teen Vogue, and The New York Times. In this sense, they are not just another night out where students get dressed up to drink and dance; they set a visual standard of, and for, the student body.
In order to examine the degree of diversity within these shows as a whole, we reached out to FS, DONT WALK, CATWALK, SITARA, and Ubuntu, asking them to disclose their equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) statistics and to comment on the measures they take to promote diversity and inclusion both within their committees and amongst their attendees. Whilst FS and Ubuntu sat down with us, CATWALK and SITARA did not respond, and DONT WALK officially declined to comment.
2022/23’s executive director of FS, Carleton Blackwell, emphasised the importance of recruiting people who can offer a mixture of perspectives, stating that FS is represented by two groups: the committee and the models.
The recruitment process for both is “continually seeking to discover new voices and showcase them on our platform”. Ms Blackwell further mentioned that since “we have St Andrews in our name, we want it to be representative of the St Andrews community”. Proving this, model gender quotas remain 50/50, and the 2023 show saw 41.7 per cent BAME models compared to the University’s 29 per cent. The importance of this representation cannot be overemphasised: these are the faces of the show, seen strolling down the runway and advertised in international editorials.
She stressed that in order for a recruitment process to pride itself on equal opportunity, the first step lies in attracting a diverse scope of students to St Andrews in the first place. Whilst St Andrews fashion show committees transform town into a microcosm of the high fashion industry, they are inevitably constrained by the University’s demographics. Can we therefore reasonably hold them to the same judgement standard as the directors of New York Fashion Week?
Ubuntu, on the other hand, is a fashion show predominantly featuring Black, African, and Caribbean cultures within their clothes, models, and committee. Creative Director Toni Akinsanya explained that they aim to “create a free, creative, space in which Black, African, and Caribbean students are able to express themselves and exhibit their cultures…St Andrews has a hugely diverse and international student population, however, it is vastly under-represented in societies besides those created to celebrate them.” With 53 out of the 3,535 entrant students in 2022 identifying as Black, events like these amplify the voices of minorities.
This is important work. If events like Ubuntu received the same level of publicity as events like FS or DONT WALK, perhaps a greater variety of prospective students would be inclined to apply to the University in the first place, feeling that they can be included as well as represented in every event that they attend.
FS23. Photo: Maggie Zhu
Representation in Events-Based Groups
A further group that hosts regular events but is perhaps known for its apparent exclusivity is the Lumsden Club: a registered Scottish charity composed exclusively of female-identifying students. They run smaller-scale events throughout the year: ranging from movie screenings, club nights, and conferences, to the larger Pimms Garden Party.
Their entirely female demographic is an important part of their mission and broader dedication to providing female-led spaces for St Andrews students. Despite this, their events are open to anyone, with ticket prices ranging from £5 - £35. Through these events, they commit to fundraising for women-empowering charities like Fife Women’s Aid.
We reached out to the group requesting their EDI statistics and comments on their commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion within the society as well as their events. In terms of the ethnic and racial backgrounds of the club’s members, they were clear that applicants are blindly assessed on merit, emphasising that “[they] do not consider the nationality, ethnicity, or social background of applicants in our selection process”.
As a group, they pledge to “continue to aim for an inclusive and diverse club body, and we hope that our events will continue to be as accessible as possible while still raising money for charity”. For the sake of this article, the club's leadership team gathered and analysed the group’s demographics data for the first time. This year, 21.1 per cent of Lumsden members identify as BAME, compared to the University’s 29.5 per cent. Whilst it is important to preserve the merit-based integrity of their admissions process, this highlights that there is value for every society to keep a record of their demographics to ensure that their membership is continuously evolving, consequently generating fresh ideas from people of all backgrounds and perspectives in their future events.
Illustration: Lauren McAndrew
Another historically exclusive group, the Kate Kennedy Club only opened its doors to female students in 2012. This followed the University’s decision to formally break ties with the club in 2009, when the Principal at the time Dr Louise Richardson stated she could not support a club whose values were “completely at odds” with those of the University and from which “so many students are excluded at birth”.
The club is responsible for hosting a series of glamorous fundraising events, including the yearly Opening Ball — a first year must— and the popular May Ball. However, they further aim to “maintain the traditions of the University '' and “uphold and improve town and gown relations” by organising events such as the Spring Procession.
Current president, Theo Verden, claims that they do not currently filter recruits according to gender and that all members share equal rights within the club. This has allowed women within the club to take a more active lead in organising their high-profile events. This year, Tatiana Mouravieff-Apostol is the club’s first ever female Marshall of their Spring Procession in their 97-year history. This marks massive progress since 2012, when, Verden asserts, that even though women were admitted “they would not have compared candidates in a necessarily equal way”.
They did not reveal their EDI statistics due to the “need to consult the rest of the club about whether people are comfortable having their demographics disclosed”. Ms Mouravieff-Apostol assured us that the number of female recruits has exponentially increased since 2012 and the club’s membership for the past two years has been “almost 50/50, sometimes with more boys and sometimes with more girls.” The Saint is unable to confirm the validity of this claim.
Mr Verden maintained that greater gender diversity has not forced the club to compromise its heavy history, as the agency of club members means that it is continually “moving in the right direction”. He states that a knowledge of town history, personable skills, and a willingness to commit to the club dictate their recruitment process, alongside the very ambiguous quality of “interesting experience in various things”. Whether other demographic factors therefore factor into their recruitment process is unclear.
Nonetheless, he insisted that they “don’t want to necessarily be seen as a secret society [anymore]” and are taking steps to encourage all students to “aspire” to join the club. These steps are arguably not big enough - Verden cites the creation of social media handles as his primary example of encouraging inclusivity within the club - however, the very recent progress towards equal representation in their events at least marks a tangible public symbol of greater effort.
Kate Kennedy Club's Spring Procession 2022. Photo: Josh Horan
Representation Doesn’t Mean Inclusivity
Amongst many others, the events put on by FS, Lumsden, and KK are some of those which most avidly shape the student experience. In conversation with us, these groups all stress a willingness to foster representation within the makeup of their committees. For the most part, this translates into the design of their events, which are openly advertised to all. Most of the EDI statistics that we obtained lined up fairly well with those of the University. In this sense, events are representative of the student body. According to the comments from these groups, each and every student is theoretically able to join any society and attend and enjoy every event. Colloquially, however, we know that this is not the case. Perhaps, therefore, inclusion is determined by wider factors than simple statistical representation. This begs the question: does fair representation correlate to full inclusivity?
A key factor influencing the inclusivity of events at St Andrews is the financial barrier to access. Students spend exorbitant amounts of money to attend highly ‘exclusive’ and reputable events. Committees and societies need to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to engage with each event.
We believe that the conversation on representation needs to acknowledge and tailor to the diverse economic positions of all students, and ensure that events are inclusive as well as being representative (or organised by representative committees). The scenes are evolving, yet to continuously progress, societies need to question their driving forces, committees need to find alternatives, and certain student voices need to be amplified.
Equal Opportunity to Accessing Events?
The Rector's Assessor, Stella Maris, operates as a link between the university Rector (who plays an informal, pastoral role for students) and the student body. We approached her for comment on whether she believed all students had equal opportunity to access some of the events which shape the student experience here. She explained that part of her mission for this year has been to work towards providing “resources to give students more access to the culture of St Andrews, for example covering some or all of the cost of ball tickets or going on trips.”
Whilst the financial demands are one of the largest challenges of being a St Andrews student, she told us that there’s only so much that can be done by the university. From her experience, Ms Maris remarked that “it is elitist to charge that much [for tickets], I just don’t know how much it can be attributed to deliberate efforts to exclude people versus the rising costs of putting on those events.” She discussed how, with recent inflation, the cost of hosting events is rapidly increasing; however, with students willing to pay the exorbitant ticket prices, there’s no incentive for venues or societies to lower the cost of their events. The university does not disclose household income statistics, however, the success of major events despite their ticket prices indicates that a large proportion of students are not only able to but willing to pay the steep prices.
Illustration: Olivia Jones
In conversation with FS, they recognised that there is still a long way to go to reach full inclusivity. This is particularly true with respect to providing equal opportunity to access for their high-profile events. Ms Blackwell told us that when determining their ticket prices, FS “question what is a fair price for our events, [as part of which process] we ask members of different socioeconomic classes”. The pragmatics of this are hard – and slightly comical – to imagine. The extent to which this reflects a veritable commitment to enabling greater access to their events is questionable, however it is at the very least a public declaration of some kind of commitment to moving forwards.
Moreover, to curb controversial ticket prices, they aim to provide a scope of various events with different price points over the course of the year; from VIC nights and F4TE week, to Starfields and their famous fashion show. Although this demonstrates a consciousness to the diverse economic positions of each student, it does not fully break down the exclusivity dilemma, where only the highest bidders have access to all of their events. Indeed, a standard ticket to their main show this year cost £75, with VIP tickets an astonishing £90 (per person!). Their annual music festival Starfields - which is advertised as the official end to Freshers week, and heavily used in advertising by the University - cost £56 at standard release, far more expensive than any other event which took place during Freshers.
These kinds of prices, of course, are by no means exceptional. VIP Fight Night tickets cost £70 (standard tickets were £45); Oktoberfest cost £58; and the Kate Kennedy Club’s May Ball takes the crown for most expensive event of the year at £99 for lunch (and £35 for the afterparty). In discussion with Mr Verden and Ms Mouravieff-Apostol, they lamented that “all these events are becoming so expensive” and insisted that “we tried to lower the price as much as possible and it’s really unfortunate. This year contractors have, like, doubled their prices – that’s why we’ve moved away from Kinkell [Byre] and to Craighton [Park]”. Ms Mouravieff-Apostol spoke of the difficulty of organising these events and additionally trying to fundraise sufficient amounts for charity; a common justification for high ticket prices made by these committees. Does this commitment necessarily preclude the inclusion of all students at their events, however?
DONT WALK 2023. Photo: Harriet St Pier
Solutions to High Ticket Prices
There are some other alternatives to the pricey ticket costs of St Andrews events. Committees frequently provide the opportunity for students to volunteer in different areas in exchange for free access to their events. Welly Ball gave students who applied to be waiters a free meal, drink, and afterparty ticket saving them £41 that an afterparty ticket cost as well as a meal. DONT WALK, whose ticket prices started at £95, and SITARA, whose ticket prices started at £55, also offered students a free afterparty ticket for helping out backstage as a dresser. First-year James, who worked at Welly Ball as a waiter, said that “working for a few hours and being well-fed — made it an excellent alternative to paying for a ticket”. However, whilst these inclusivity efforts are commendable, it can be argued that compelling those who are unable or unwilling to pay the ticket prices to work in order to attend the event - and not providing any formal financial compensation for this work - further exacerbates the socioeconomic divides within the student body. We reached out to Welly Ball and SITARA for comment, but they did not respond. DONT WALK declined to comment.
There are also many events which provide a very similar standard of entertainment as well as commitment to fundraising which have much lower price tags. Ubuntu told us how they work hard to keep their ticket prices significantly lower than that of most other fashion shows. This year, their tickets sold for £35 before being lowered to £20 because of a change in location due to the safety issues with 601. This exemplifies inclusivity by catering to the needs of students to ensure that they can all still engage with unique and representative events regardless of their financial status. Similarly, CATWALK sold their tickets for only £34 (afterparty tickets cost a fiver!). They evidenced that high-production values and fundraising can be done whilst keeping students' costs at a minimum. Inclusivity and fundraising, therefore, is perhaps not as mutually exclusive as it may first appear.
Moreover, it is important to acknowledge that there are a variety of events open to students for more reasonable prices. JazzWorks, for example, is free to all students until 22:30 when the union charges £1. Mermaids prices many of their events as ‘pay what you can’, making their productions accessible and inclusive to all students. Many other smaller societies and events collectives - such as Danceworm, BPM, Szentek, and Throwbacks - regularly host events for as little as £3.
Welly Ball 2022. Photo: Maggie Zhu
Researching this article has inspired a self-reflection on our own diversity. As a leading publication at the University, it’s important to operate with full transparency. A survey to which 58 per cent of The Saint's committee responded revealed that 70.2 per cent of members identify as female and 29.8 percent identify as male. Furthermore, the group is 72.3 per cent white and 27.7 per cent BAME.
“Our statistics show that we need to do more to platform the voices of a more diverse group of students. Where people come from ultimately influences how they write, and what they want to write about,” said Editors-in-Chief Isabel Loubser and Sophia Brousset, “We realise that a rich and varied student newspaper is created through spotlighting a variety of perspectives and experiences, and, going forward, this will be placed at the forefront of The Saint.”
“We hope that beginning to collect our EDI statistics each year will encourage us to take a more proactive approach to increasing the diversity of our team. In September, we will once again be hiring and, as always, everyone is welcome to apply. We recognise that attracting different voices hinges on making ourselves visible. We are hoping to achieve this through both establishing relationships with a range of committees and conducting more informal sessions where people can drop in and share their ideas for the paper’s content and raise any concerns they may have about the application process or The Saint more broadly”.
Ultimately, whilst the University’s statistics prove that in comparison to the broader UK we are representative, this does not necessarily mean that the events which societies and committees are creating are inclusive of the student body. This is particularly emphasised when considering factors such as ticket price and the socioeconomic diversity of students. This has direct long-term effects on the diversity of the student body and perspectives of potential applicants. As a university, St Andrews should continuously focus on the amplification of all voices in order to ensure that as well as being representative of all students, they are inclusive as well.