Summer ball exclusion: why the ticket price uproar represents an ongoing battle for working-class students

Summer ball season is officially upon us. However, instead of the occasion being met with jubilation, scores of students have taken to Durfess – Durham’s confessions page on Facebook – to express disapproval at the price of some college’s tickets. Josephine Butler College, in particular, has taken a battering with many saying that the £85 ticket price makes the event inaccessible to working-class students. In one particular Durfess, a student expresses that the ball ticket price has “basically split [their] friend group into the people with money and the broke students who have to miss out”.

The £85 ticket price for Butler’s ball is for non-JCR members with JCR members still having to pay a substantial £75, both of which do not include bottles of wine. Members of Butler’s JCR and Summer Ball Committee have responded to these Durfesses by stating that students are open to discussing options with the JCR who are willing to provide financial support as well as offering options to pay in instalments or citing other student financial support, such as bursaries and the Hardship Fund. However, these suggestions have been denounced by some students since they are believed to be “only for people who fit into a very narrow box” and the process being “long, complicated and pretty humiliating”. Some students have also expressed their shame at Butler since it prides itself on its working-class student reputation.

However, Butler is not the only college to come under hot water for their ticket prices. Through the anonymous confessions page, people have also drawn attention to St Aidan’s who are charging £70 for JCR levy payers and £85 for non-JCR members for a ball that is being held within the college itself. Grey College has also sparked controversy for charging £87 (again without wine) for their ball held at the same venue as Butler.

Yet, despite the recent uptake in hostility towards the affordability and accessibility of Durham’s social events, this has been an ongoing theme way before this year’s summer ball season, and in particular with Durham’s societies and sports. Recent research conducted by Durham’s 93% Club found that 75% of respondents in their survey said they were put off joining sports due to fees and subs costs with a further 88% agreeing that there is not enough financial support for lower-income students to help cover costs. For example, women’s rugby subs are £150 plus an additional £100 minimum for kit. That’s not including additional costs such as travel and accommodation for national competitions, nights out and socials, gym memberships, competition and event fees – the list is endless.

In their latest Cut the Costs campaign, the 93% Club are calling on the university and Team Durham, through an open letter published May 23rd, to provide more financial support to lower-income students to ensure equal access to sports at Durham.

And, as we can see from the controversy surrounding summer ball ticket prices, this is an issue that goes beyond sports – it permeates every aspect of the university lifestyle, but especially Durham’s very carefully curated culture of balls, formals, sports and societies. A lifestyle that caters quite nicely to the largely middle-class students of Durham, all the while creating further exclusion for the forgotten working-class students. As such, the issue of summer ball ticket pricing arguably just represents yet another issue for accessibility for Durham.



Featured image: SKYLAKE STUDIO via Unsplash

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