A response to the below article has been published. Out of respect for those who felt personally targeted, names of specific events (regardless of context) have been removed.
St Andrews charity events are a terrible shame.
An outsider would not think it. Every year, we students fulfil infeasible fantasies through our charity fashion shows, balls and festivals. St Andrews has established a place for itself outside the shadow of Wills and Kate, and that place is a dazzling spot in the sun. Most adults, in their entire lifetime, will not attend events of the same calibre as those hosted by our student body. Champagne and black tie, VIP areas and customised cocktails – all are things suited to a socialite’s diary. In St Andrews, they form the building blocks of our Facebook newsfeeds, alternating places with the latest promotional cover photo change.
Be it our innate ambition or the competitive edge fostered by all those Oxbridge rejections, St Andrews certainly excels in the art of FOMO. Considering this admirable spirit, it is a shame that our University’s largest inside joke revolves around corruption, embezzlement and excess.
Every student has participated in the collective laugh shared at the mention of the phrase “charity event.” Even when no explicit joke is made, the sarcasm remains inherent, as though the notion of a genuinely charitable committee could not be fathomed at this University. “It’s for charity” lost its lustre somewhere, somehow, and now holds a full-time position as a punchline.
Nowhere else can such a pathetic punchline be found, and nowhere else is a student body so blatantly hypocritical in its humour. We laugh at the idea of an event being for charity, call a committee corrupt; then we buy a ticket anyway, attend the event, enjoy the evening. We have, by our own definition, participated in the system that effectively steals money from charity. To stand contentedly in a marquee, ice cream in one hand and Cava in another, laughing at the thought of all the money charity won’t be receiving, seems rather cruel – veracity of such beliefs aside.
In this regard, I find St Andrews to be completely bizarre. Corrupt clubs and committees are treated as an open secret: “Sure, it’s for charity,” people say, winking slyly as they queue for tickets; “I’m sure it’s for a great cause,” as they fork over a fistful of cash; “Bet the donation will be massive,” as they enter the marquee. These people intend for the committee to be the butt of the joke; and yet, I see the charity as the ultimate recipient of their mockery. Never have I heard an individual say, “I refuse to attend this event because I believe the organisers embezzle money.” Not once. People prioritise their desire for a party over the well-being of a charity – assuming that corruption has even taken place to begin with.
Funnily, the event itself often acts as a breeding ground for these gossip sessions. Event guests cheerfully ruminate on the ways in which the chosen charity will be screwed over, not bothering to admit their own roles in such a system. These event-goers appear blind to their own hypocrisy, unable to recognise that by purchasing a ticket, they are enabling the very organisations that they baselessly claim are corrupt.
These paradoxical accusations stem in part from self-consciousness. We are students, privileged by the very nature of being at this university. On a certain level we recognise the ridiculousness of our grandiose society. “Starving” students are not meant to pop bottles of Veuve Clicquot and bid on diamond necklaces; we should be drinking Lambrini and window-shopping at Accessorise, surely. As spectacular as these nights can be, certain guests may feel embarrassed to be participants in such a flagrant display of materialism.
These people combat awkward self-awareness with deprecation: By smugly expressing their disapproval of the ball and disdain for the committee, the event becomes an ironic expedition instead of a display of wealth. Never mind that they paid £30 for a secondhand afterparty ticket, after failing to secure a table in the dinner ballot. They may look across the dancefloor at Kinkell Byre and tell themselves that they are better than the rabble, because they know the truth.
But what is the truth? Where do these rumours of corruption originate?
Hand-in-hand with self-awareness comes self-hatred. St Andrews, for all its elitism and pride, is wrought with a powerful sense of scorn for itself. “Classic St Andrews!” frequently captions photos of champagne and dinner jackets – but it’s okay because it’s ironic, right? Unfortunately, these jokes only serve to propagate the culture that we often criticise. They planted the seed for 2012’s ‘champagning’ incident, a viral video of St Andrean males pouring champagne onto their heads. The video netted criticism from countless publications, alumni and the University, eventually necessitating a formal apology from the creators. They attributed the video to a misplaced desire to parody our uni’s reputation as “posh.” Somewhere between overturning a bottle of Moët and laughing at a local charity, that reputation has become a sad reality.
As previously stated, the students who ridicule the charitable nature of balls do not intend to trivialise the charities themselves. Rather, they hope to express their hatred for the event organisers. Numerous clubs and committees fall victim to the twisted relationship that St Andrews shares with its own reputation, a relationship defined by a simultaneous embrace and rejection of elitism. These committees orchestrate the grandest events of the year, all of which sell-out amidst high levels of demand. Despite their commercial successes, members are frequently targeted by their own guests, who fall back onto accusations of embezzlement to reconcile themselves with their baseless hatred of a charitable club.
All that said, there is the small potential for truth hidden within this predominately unfounded litany of complaints.
Imagine an event attended by 1,060 people. Hypothetically, this event may be divided into three ticket tiers: VVIP, VIP, and Standard. Each tier grows proportionally smaller as the price point increases, meaning that the majority of guests will be Standard. We may consequently break the guest list down into 600 Standard guests, 400 VIP guests, and 60 VVIP guests. In this scenario, we may charge Standard guests £20, VIP guests £45 and VVIP guests £60. Some hasty maths places the total revenue from ticket sales alone at £33,600.
£33,600 is a lot of money for a theoretical teenager to have in his or her back pocket. Based on this, I understand the skepticism that many people hold for our committees. These are numbers that working adults may be tempted by; in the unchecked hands of a student, it feels dangerously unsecured – particularly if the money is placed in that student’s personal savings account, rather than a monitored committee account.
I do not have the authority to say, without a doubt, that there is no deception present within St Andrews. But no problems have ever been solved by senseless, bitter rumours which are quickly discredited by the innate hypocrisy of their makers. Until students put their money where their mouths are, the system that they claim to hate will continue to function.
By all means, purchase event tickets. But do take heed: at most parties, it is considered rude to accuse the host of corruption while drinking their champagne.