The McIntosh Hall Ball has been the center of controversy as students at the University of St Andrews complained of high ticket prices. While the prices were ultimately adjusted, the entire incident seems to have left a bad taste in the mouth of many students.
Student organized balls hosted by each of the University’s Halls of Residence typically take place in the second semester. The McIntosh Hall Ball, called the “Chattan Centennial”, was scheduled for 7 April at the Old Course Hotel. Many students spoke out against the ball.
The original price for a resident ticket was 40 pounds, and 50 for non-residents. Even at a reduced rate, residents still felt that the prices were far too exorbitant in comparison to the promised experience. One McIntosh Hall resident, Brigid Rawdon, said, “I felt very disappoint- ed when I saw the ticket prices.”
According to McIntosh Hall committee member Naomi Smith, the budget was set based on a variety of factors including venue, security, food, drinks, decorations, and more. Arranged by each hall’s individual student committee, a budget is set based on the predicted number of attendees, which may vary from hall to hall. Yet, while many halls’ resident prices range from free to the 20-pound range, the McIntosh Ball was almost double that. Smith says the committee had several meetings over the last five months to make collective decisions to discuss the factors which led up to this price. However, McIntosh residents, like Rawdon, were not happy. As one of the first to speak out, Rawdon pointed out that students already pay exceptionally high prices to live in student accommodation in St Andrews. According to a Guardian report from 2019, the average student in the UK will pay around 140 pounds a week for university accommodation in their first year, whereas the cost for a shared room in McIntosh falls around 230 pounds a week.
“I thought it was completely unacceptable to charge hall resi- dents that much considering how much money they already pay to live in the hall,” Rawdon said.
Following the initial backlash, students took to Messenger group chats or anonymous forums to express their frustration with the price point. Rawdon feels that the general sentiment reflected in the forums and chats were valid, that the ball was unreasonably expensive, and that the initial price excluded a big portion of the hall’s residents.
"The main issue at hand was the lack of consideration for middle and low-income students that is pervasive in this university,” Rawdon explained.
“We were told that the tickets were expensive because the hall committee wanted us to have an amazing time, but it seems that students who cannot afford tickets are not included in that vision.”
From what she personally heard from other residents, Rawdon believes that many students felt they did not need many of the extravagant elements which brought the ticket price so high, such as the three-course meal and the poker tables.
In the aftermath of the outcry, anonymous posts on Facebook escalated the situation. One particular post attempted to explain the cost, stating that the event actually cost around 100 pounds per person, that the quality of the event makes up for it, and for residents to stop complaining.
The way in which the post was composed led many students to believe it was written by a committee member, and Rawdon explained her disappointment.
“Those explanations and posts made it incredibly clear that this ball was just going to be a part of the culture of elitism at this university,” she said.
Rawdon believes that this reflects a bigger issue at the University and was let down by the way the opinion of residents were being brushed off, when the ball was meant for them.
Rawdon continued to speak out, and it paid off. She said, “I had multiple students reach out to tell me that they had wanted to say something about the ticket prices because they couldn’t afford them.”
Shortly after students shared their frustration and didn’t buy tickets, the committee provided an update. Committee member Jolie Lay posted, “We’ve heard your demands and frustrations, after careful deliberation with the Old Course Hotel, and many hours of brainstorming we are now able to offer a reduction on ticket prices.”
Smith says the committee worked tirelessly to reduce the prices after what seemed like a lot of residents decided against buying tickets.
“We were under lots of pressure to try and please everyone, while still making sure we weren’t losing money,” she said.
The committee decided the best course of action would be to cut the venue size and number of tickets available to reduce the ticket price to 25 pounds for residents. Smith explained that she felt a lot of students were being unreasonable with their complaints, given the committee is made up of just a few hall residents.
“I personally think, a lot of hall residents didn’t take the time or energy to appreciate how hard we were working to please them and instead just thought we were snobs trying to rip everyone off,” she said. Smith hopes that the ball will be a good way to close off the year and celebrate the community’s resilience throughout the pandemic.
Despite the change in price, Rawdon says she will still not be attending the ball.
“As insignificant as it may seem, the whole ordeal made the university feel a lot less welcoming,” she said.
Image: Abigail Mason