It is impossible to deny that St Andrews has a certain reputation. Solidified by the attendance of Prince William, as well as the disproportionate amount of old Etonians that go here, St Andrews students are frequently referred to as pompous poshos by other universities. And what really does not help this rep is frequent displays of wealth in our balls and fashion shows, all done in the name of charity.
After all, while students somewhere such as Manchester or Glasgow would wail at the sight of a £90 ticket price, we all take it on the chin. Why do we have this attitude? Well, because the money all goes to a good place. Right?
Do not get me wrong: I think it is amazing that so many of these events end up raising large sums of money for various charitable organisations. My question, however, is as follows. Does the average St Andrews student actually care? After all, we are just broke students, and the extortionate prices for certain events are easier to justify when they are in the name of a good cause. We all can stand around in Kinkell Byre clutching our complimentary Janetta’s and prosecco and pat ourselves on the back because “Oh, it’s all for charity, don’t you know?” But how many people could actually name the charity the event supports?
I took to the streets (or rather, to the Union) to find out. By lurking in Beacon Bar, I was able to pounce upon unsuspecting students and ask them to name the charitable causes behind certain balls. I named five of arguably the biggest events on the St Andrews student calendar: the St Andrews Charity Fashion Show, the St Andrews Charity Polo Tournament, the Mermaids’ Christmas Ball, Welly Ball, and Glitterball, and I challenged thirty people to chance a guess at what they supported.
A shocking twenty-seven people out of the thirty questioned could not name a single charity. Even worse, those three that could name a charity do not even fully count, because a) they could only name one or two, and b) they were on the committee themselves. I got a lot of suggestions, such as “Oh, Glitterball must be for something gay, right?” or “Christmas Ball has got to be artsy or theatrical or something.” But no one who was not in some way involved or closely affiliated with the committee was able to give me exact names of the charitable foundations that their money had gone to.
Realistically, I am not exactly surprised at this response. What I am surprised by is that most of the people questioned did not even seem to care about their ignorance. In fact, some found it funny. And then people wonder why other universities think we are snobs.
I am not saying I am blameless. Far from it. Out of the balls I have gone to, I can only name one charity that was mentioned, and that is because it was held by the Charities Campaign. And even then, I do not know that from research; I only know it because a friend on the committee had to change their profile picture on Facebook. When a new event rolls around and it is time to buy a ticket, I fork out the money without even thinking about where it goes.
If my parents ever asked why I would be willing to spend £40 to get drunk with my friends, charity is just an excuse I can use. It is a very superficial reason to attend, when in reality I could not care less about where my money ends up. And while saying that makes me feel like a terrible human being, it is somewhat comforting to learn I am not the only one.
But while ignorance is somewhat excusable, are we as students actively avoiding the charitable element of these events? Balls or other occasions that heavily promote the charitable element frequently seem to do worse than their less focused counterparts.
One example is Under Canvas, an event last year that prominently featured its support for cystic fibrosis charities in the “Take a Breath” campaign. A resounding flop, Under Canvas was unable to sell enough tickets to even host the event. Surely the fact the committee was proudly supporting a charity was not what held it back? Perhaps it was: after all, no one really wants to remember the less fortunate when they are trying to have a nice night out.
This is somewhat understandable, although not excusable. We are university students with short attention spans. When we have spent a lot of money to celebrate, it is not like we want to focus on a long talk about who exactly we are supporting. After all, that would be far too depressing for us to stop guzzling prosecco for.
It is worth noting, however, that some committees are attempting to dispel this attitude by featuring more of their charitable goals in their marketing campaigns. The St Andrews Charity Fashion Show and the DONT WALK Charity Fashion Show collaborated this year to support One Million Miles for Ellie. The campaign raised money and awareness for people whose lives have been touched by cancer in honour of a St Andrews graduate who tragically lost her life to the illness. The walk featured prominently in each show’s promotional materials.
This year, the St Andrews Charity Oktoberfest has altered its terms and conditions to state that anyone reselling tickets should please donate anything over the original ticket price to the supported charity rather than keep the excess money. This is no small order, considering that tickets regularly resell for over £100. It is a step in the right direction, but we have got a long way to go.
So, next time you’re considering attending one of these events, maybe try and consider where the money is going.