Debate: Are college balls worth the expense?

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Proposition – Josh Crossley

How many colleges is each member of this university a member of at any one time? One. How many balls does each college hold, at a maximum, each year? One. How many do most of them hold during an average student’s entire degree? One. Hold those facts in your mind as you (hopefully…!) carry on reading.

My college, Catz, is holding its ball in February next year. Our ball, in common with many other colleges, is a triennial event which means that I, as well as almost all other Catz students, will only ever experience one ball at my own college. It is difficult to imagine your college being completely transformed and given over almost exclusively to one event but when ball week comes round that is exactly what will happen. Why? Because a college ball is probably the social highlight of our university careers.

This week saw the release of the logo for the Catz Ball on the JCR Facebook page. Considering that it is only a small part of the event itself (it is amazing though, check it out!), the amount of chatter and excitement it has generated is amazing. This excitement is a reflection of what a huge event a ball is for a college and its members. It is literally the biggest and most expensive party many of them will ever go to; it is held at the place from which some of the most amazing memories of their life will have come; it is celebrated with the people who have made those memories so special.

It’s true, not all college balls manage to avoid being complete flops – whether it’s a lack of food, poor entertainment or queues for the toilet that are just too long, getting it exactly right on such a large scale and with such high expectations is difficult. After all, those who are running college balls are not professional event organisers; at the beginning of the organising process chances are that they are as inexperienced and ignorant as the average attendee. This doesn’t mean, though, that college balls aren’t worth the expense – the quality of an event, I believe, is not determined by a couple of mishaps on the night.

Instead, the quality of a ball is determined by the whole package a guest receives. The impression they get when they walk through the entrance; the selection of drinks available; the breadth of entertainment; and, yes, whether or not the toilets are particularly luxurious. These are material things, however. In addition to these factors there is the experience as a whole, which I believe is immeasurable. An event should not primarily be judged by the number of things on the table but by the quality of the company and the number of laughs. At a college ball, you are surrounded by some of your closest friends and the people with whom you have shared a unique experience in the form of a university career at an event which is billed as unforgettable and beyond compare. Whatever food is provided and however long the queue for the coatroom, this should shine through and make for a sensational experience.

Balls allow a college community to put their stamp on a huge event designed just for them, to celebrate who they are and what they’re about and to have a rip-roaringly fantastic time in the process. They are prone to mishaps and these are unfortunate but they should not detract from the overall experience which, at the end of the day, is a once in a lifetime one.

College balls are phenomenal. I only get one, and I can’t wait.


Opposition – Michael Scott

I’m a fresher, and I’ve never been to a student ball. And yet I dare to write this piece. Outrageous. I know. But I’ve never been to a ball because I wouldn’t dream on spending £100+ for an evening’s entertainment, except, that is, if Flight of the Concord’s were giving a concert. As far as I know, Jesus & Somerville didn’t offer the Flight of the Concord’s as an attraction. They were going to offer a shark, but then they didn’t. My friend, who went to the ball, said it was “Ok”. “Ok”? “Ok”!
Surely, if we’re paying £100 for an evening’s entertainment, it needs to be better thank “Ok”? Let’s be clear; it wasn’t just my friend who was distinctly underwhelmed by the whole experience. The ball is widely considered a failure, frankly, and most people I’ve spoken to who went have said slightly less kinder than a simple “Ok”. In fact, some people have been really quite rude about the whole thing.
‘Oh, an unfortunate case,’ you might say; ‘not every ball is like that.’ Well maybe that’s true. I imagine some Ball committee’s actually do their job. On the same night as the Somerville ball there was a St. Hilda’s ball, and Brasenose were having a bash too. Another friend raved about the free food on offer at Hilda’s, but he was hard pushed to find anything else to say about it.
Call me a party-pooper if you like, but I just don’t see how the money that we spend on these events is approaching something like ‘good value’. Surely something’s good value if it offers something you can’t get for a cheaper price. And what, exactly, does a ball offer that nothing else offers? A burrito? Pizza? A mock-up Jules Verne balloon? Really? Honestly? Novelty attractions are a waste of time. The food’s a nice touch but it’s not coming close to £100. A glass of champagne, maybe even two, is fine, but if it’s what really floats your boat, get together with a couple of friends, put in a tenner each for a decent bottle, and go to formal. You’re still £80 up on the deal.
My point is this; students are not getting anything at a ball that they don’t get elsewhere, and they’re getting asked to pay through the nose for the privilege. Let’s face it, we’re not the wealthiest demographic group, so why do we accept this debauchery when we could be having just a good a time doing something for considerably less money? I suppose I’m missing something. The ball’s not about the stuff you get, but it’s the whole ethos of the thing: Tradition, glamour and joviality. The college ball really adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Well, maybe. But as with all these grand traditions, there’s a hell of a lot of improvidence involved. Too much for most people. For ‘tradition’ read ‘reputation’. For ‘glamour’ read ‘extravagance’. For ‘joviality’ read ‘self-indulgence’.
It’s worth baring in mind what else you’re paying for before you hand over that £100 for someone’s now unwanted ticket. You’re subscribing to the ethos of a by-gone era. This might come as a shock to some of the most deluded, but most people in the outside world, looking into the bubble, won’t think much of the college ball. In fact, they’ll think it’s a sickening waste of money. When you buy that ticket you’re making a statement; that spending hundreds of pounds on a dozen hour’s entertainment is the way you want to live your life.
There are a couple of exceptions to the rule. The Union’s balls, ironically enough, are at around half the price of a ticket for a summer event. The RAG ball, while up there with the when it comes to expense, at least comes with a free supplement in the form of the that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you enjoy righteous revelry. Even so, it’s a lot of money, and there are other ways of donating to charity.
Which gets me onto my main point; going to a college ball just doesn’t seem justifiable. There are other ways of letting your hair down – I’m not attacking that at all. Everyone deserves the chance to go crazy and let loose every now and then. However, you’re a lunatic if you think that a college ball is the the best way to do that. Save your money, and when your college friends mutter a pathetic “It was ok” at you the next day, you’ll be glad you did.