Apathy in St Andrews: enough with the “KK” attitude

Isaac Leaver discusses what is needed from the student body and members of St Andrews' most controversial institution.

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Illustration: Emily Lomax

It is a peculiar habit of mine, no doubt underpinned by years of Anglicanism and studying the Middle Ages, to divide the year up into various “tides.” There is Christmastide, Shrovetide, Eastertide, and so on; in St Andrews, during the period when the Kate Kennedy Club Procession takes to the streets, the Gaudie is performed, and May Ball is thrown, there is “Kate Kennedy-tide.” If any time is ripe for a discourse surrounding one of our most prominent organisations, then now, “Kate Kennedy-tide,” fits the bill.

Nearly four years’ worth of experience at this university has taught me whatever discussion there is to be had about the club is woefully lazy and ill-considered. The positions taken almost always result in the following conclusions, to which I have adjoined the necessary critiques:

“They’re all just a bunch of wankers!” — empirically nonsense and informed by the same empty-headed, knee-jerk, broad-brush model of prejudice by which the proponents of this opinion like to be horrified at every other opportunity.

“Well, they put on good events, don’t they?” — the sort of shallow, vacuous non-judgement you can expect from the kind of people who believe that the high watermark of St Andrean civic culture was being able to hold FS on a Tuesday night and who are ready to exculpate anyone with the wherewithal to furnish press passes.

Quiet voicing of minor reservations shrouded in apathetic public silence — the majoritarian position, typical of this university’s student body and its lack of interest in upsetting the applecart in any way at all,tacitly tinged with the bizarre and ludicrous fear that somehow this charitable organisation will be “out to get them” if they utter a word in criticism.

All three positions suffer from selective amnesia. The first group chooses to forget that members of the club dedicate an enormous amount of time and effort to both charitable fundraising and preserving traditions that mark this institution from the rest and without which we would be considerably poorer. No one asks the club to maintain an astonishing closet of costumes to retell the story of this fascinating town or serve refreshments to all the first years emerging soaked and hungover from the Raisin Monday foam fight. Those who attach the corollary of “abolish the club” to their aforementioned opprobrium fail to understand that its very existence is justified by the continual and varied work it performs throughout the year.

The second group opts to wallpaper over, and therefore never actually tackle, the numerous shadows under which the club is so often cast. Despite the notional accessibility of club membership, in particularly following the admission of women in 2012, members remain overwhelmingly white, male, wealthy, and, at least amongst the British, privately-educated. If this has something to do with the backgrounds of the cohort that applies in first year, then it seems that precious little is being done to expand the pool of applicants beyond this narrow confluence of categories. Yet all this group can muster in response is that the club’s events are good, as if somehow all moral and social character now depends upon consequentialist entertainment value.

The third group would do well to be reminded that their silence, despite treading the via media and encompassing the largest number of people, facilitates the domination of these two flawed extremes. Questioning the club and its practices is left to the unmeasured pontificators who make criticism seem like the preserve of the cantankerous. To praise the club is left to the simpering sycophants who are unable to see past their VIP tickets. As a result, the club is never seriously compelled to address the rumour-mill it faces — to clear its name once and for all — or to redress its admissions criteria in a way that means it more suitably echoes the diversity of the modern university and ensures that the best candidates end up wearing that unmistakable silver and red tie.

Make no mistake –– this is important. The club may be a private organisation, discrete from the University and the Union, but that should not make it exempt from the sorts of checks and pressures it would face were it affiliated. This is because it continues to be the guardian of our traditions, which ultimately, despite the prevailing Anglo-American mentality, are the preserve of us and not the so-called “great and the good.” We should be all invested in the hope that they, our representatives, are as pristine and reflective as possible.

There is always the risk that an article like this will please nobody and anger everyone. However, when it comes to a complex organisation like the Kate Kennedy Club, it is essential to encourage everyone towards moderation and nuance so that we may praise when deserved, query openly when appropriate, and, above all, keep discussing at all times. Only then will we have the chance to have a manifestation of this quintessentially St Andrean institution of which we might all be proud.

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