Yule Ball Budget Stirs Controversy

In the wake of the recent Yule Ball, students have disagreed vehemently over the event budget. Supporters claim that the Yule Ball, which received $3,000 from the Student Activities Committee (SAC) and more than $4,000 from Dean of Students Liz Braun and Coordinator of Student Activities Paury Flowers, appeals to many students and, as the only large-scale dry event on campus, should be prioritized in terms of funding.

Others believe that the Yule Ball caters to a small, select group of students and receives an entirely disproportionate and unjustified amount of funding. Many students expressed concern via Facebook comments in the week leading up to the Yule Ball that an excess of funding for a single party would deplete funding for other groups on campus.

Christopher Geissler ’13 heartily supports the Yule Ball, as he believes that funding a well-attended, fun, dry event is one of the best uses of the existing party-funding structures at Swarthmore and should be a primary goal for SAC. “Whoever funds the Yule Ball — SAC, the Deans’ Office, or anyone else — should support this event generously as the only major dry event on campus,” Geissler said.

Geissler also said that he was uncomfortable with the way in which Swarthmore parties were funded, as he feels that funding structures support events involving underage drinking with the implicit support of the college. He expressed major dissatisfaction with the number and scale of dry events on campus. While there are movie screenings and parlor parties (gatherings in Parrish Parlors involving food and drink) as social events for students who choose not to drink, the Yule Ball is the only large designated dry event with music and dancing.

“Not everyone who likes to party likes to drink,” Geissler said. “Dry music-and-dancing-type parties provide an opportunity for those students who enjoy such events but do not drink and/or prefer to avoid being around drunk people to enjoy themselves in a safe space open to all students,” he explained.

Rose Pitkin ’13 agreed with Geissler’s sentiments and regards the Yule Ball as a different type of dry party. “Honestly, we spend outrageous amounts of money throwing parties with alcohol, like Halloween, Sager, Pub Nite every week, and frat parties,” Pitkin said, adding that there are no comparable dry events. “People don’t want to have fondue in the parlors,” she said, referring to the existing dry events on campus. “They want to go out and dance.”

Flowers said that the Student Activities office, which supports all social events on campus, has received many requests for funding from those who do not wish to participate in the events on campus which involve alcohol. In the last few years, Flowers said, the office has received grant money to support alternative and alcohol-free social events, such as the parlor parties. After this money ran out, Flowers said, the responsibility for funding dry events fell on SAC, which enthusiastically agreed to continue the support.

“There is no task force dedicated to increasing the number of dry parties of any scale on campus, but we do want to make sure that all voices, without regard for minority or majority opinions, are reflected … with regards to fun traditions and annual events,” Flowers explained, adding that she sees the Yule Ball organizers as model student leaders who work hard to bring together students, faculty, and staff for a community-building event.

Pitkin believes that support and respect for dry events such as the Yule Ball are necessary for building an inclusive community at Swarthmore. “Being able to have a dry party is important, and it’s important that people respect that,” she said.

While Mike Girardi ’13 believes that there should be dry events such as the Yule Ball at Swarthmore, and said that he understands that a group of students on campus view drinking culture negatively or apathetically, he is troubled by the scale of funding for the Yule Ball.

Girardi feels that the Yule Ball caters to a select cross-section of campus and, as such, receives an entirely unjustified amount of funding. “Blowing eight grand on an event meant to satisfy a very select group of students on campus is not right and sets a bad precedent for later Yule Balls,” Girardi said. “I just think the amount spent on Yule Ball is ridiculous.”

Girardi took issue with the fact that the school spends twice as much money on the Yule Ball as it does on Halloween, and questioned why the two events could not be conducted on similar budgets. “To say that the party’s only expenditures are music and alcohol is not fair by any stretch of the imagination,” Girardi said of Halloween. Girardi did not consume alcohol before or during the Halloween party, and noted that lighting, decorations, and other setup costs made Halloween a positive experience for sober participants as well.

Girardi stressed that he does not harbor any resentment towards dry parties, and said that the school’s support for a dry event to appeal to the part of the student body which chooses not to drink is entirely fair. He acknowledged that more wet parties than dry parties occurred on campus throughout the semester, but attributes this to student groups, not to the party-funding structures which Geissler believes are at fault. “There are more wet parties during the year because of the student groups that propose them. To my knowledge there do not exist any barriers to dry parties on campus,” Girardi said. “The justification of, ‘There are no dry parties so we should overfund for this one’ is absurd,” he said.

Pitkin was initially also frustrated when she heard about the spending on the Yule Ball, as she had been told numerous times when attempting to secure funding for a speaker, a spoken-word artist who would cost $2500 to bring to campus, that she should not go to SAC. “It’s hard to see so much money being put into one thing,” she said.

Facebook comments by many students, such as SAC member Mia Ferguson ’15, echoed Pitkin’s opinions. “We are lacking in student funding right now,” Ferguson wrote, alluding to the tighter budget this year for SAC from the Student Budget Committee (SBC). “Yule Ball was provided a substantial amount of funding, both from SAC and the Deans. This allocation means that other student events or activities will likely be void of funding, so events with budgets of all sizes will receive less.” Ferguson also wrote that smaller groups such as the dance company Rhythm ’n Motion have struggled to secure funding, a frustration in the face of a party costing upwards of $7000.

Yule Ball Director Yana List ’13 is aware that some students take issue with the expense of the ball, but she thinks that the funding for the Yule Ball is entirely justified, as many students attend and enjoy the event. “I definitely believe that the Yule Ball is worth the funding, and this year’s event just proved it to me. Sharples was completely packed all night, especially after 10,” List said. “The reality is, the price of it is comparable to the Halloween party — we just spend the money differently … most of the cost is absorbed by the Deans,” she added. The Halloween party this year received around $3500 from SAC, while the Yule Ball received $3000.

Like Geissler, Pitkin, and Flowers, List stressed the importance of holding a large dry event for the entire community. “It is important for there to be a major dry event that is inclusive of all the different people on our campus — many of whom don’t enjoy wet parties,” List said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, a poll on The Phoenix website revealed that 61% of the almost 270 people who voted believe that the funding for the Yule Ball should be decreased and directed to other groups, while 39% felt that the event appealed to the majority of the school and was well worth the funding. Clearly, the student body remains divided over the issue of whether or not funding for the Yule Ball is justified, though it appears that in the years to come organizers will conduct the budget in a similar fashion.


  1. Here are some numbers from past years. I think it helps to see the way money gets broken down for events. People might not know that a huge percentage goes into set-up and clean-up, and that almost every large event on campus is on a relatively tight budget. As far as I know, Upper Tarble has different set-up and clean-up rules than Sharples but it does not safely accomodate more than a few hundred people at once (ex: Childish Gambino was able to perform there but only ~300 people could be there at a time).

    Sharples Table Removal: $2,500
    Sharples EVS Clean-up: $600
    Band: $500
    DJ: $60
    Decorations: $3,000 (this is how much it costs to rent lighting and tablecloths from the school’s partner entertainment company)
    All food (baked by students), drinks, & supplies: $1,190 (cut down from a budget of $1,600)
    Waltz lessons, Sharples Takeover prizes and supplies, a capella performances, photo booth: Donated by students

    GENDERFUCK 2012 = ~$8,000
    Sharples Table Removal: $2,500
    Sharples EVS Clean-up: $600
    Decorations, refreshments, etc: ~$4,900
    Ground Control and escorts home: Student volunteers

    I have never been involved with the Halloween Party, so I’m not sure how much it costs (the $3,500 mentioned in the article would only be possible with no decoration rentals or paid entertainment, since Sharples usage by itself costs $3,100 and drinks alone cost at least a few hundred).

    More numbers:

    WORTHSTOCK 2011 = $14,000-$15,000
    Hospitality: $1,000
    Stage & Tech: ~$6,000
    Bands: ~$7,000

    CHILDISH GAMBINO 2012 = ~$80,000
    To put into perspective how rough it is to be on LSE committee (everyone is a whiner about LSE until they serve on the committee and see the numbers), here is how much it costs to book popular artists:
    $100,000-$150,000 = Colbie Caillat, Switchfoot
    $150,000-$250,000 = Cee Lo Green, Goo Goo Dolls, O.A.R.
    $250,000-$500,000 = Florence & The Machine, Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5
    $500,000-1,000,000 = Bruno Mars, Fergie, James Taylor, John Mayer, Killers
    $1,000,000-3,000,000+ = Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Dave Matthews Band, Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon, Pink, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, etc.

    One last thing: Harry Potter was a huge part of my childhood and I love having a party that emulates the ball in the book. However, if there comes a day (maybe soon) when the majority of campus does not relate to the Harry Potter books in the same way the class of 2012 did, then I think it would be totally warranted to make it much more about Swarthmore than about Hogwarts. The goal of Yule Ball has always been to bring people at Swarthmore together… it just so happened that Harry Potter was historically an awesome and effective way to bring people at Swarthmore together. The point is to have a large-scale dry event for the entire school, where people can congregate and dance and take photos and forget about finals and spend time with their friends in a safe environment. It’s never going to please everyone, but it should be designed to please most people who enjoy dry events. Just my two cents.

  2. (Also: I was not involved in Yule Ball 2012 planning, but I believe decoration costs were negotiated down to $2,000 this year. The Yule Ball 2011 budget is not identical to the budget from this year.)

  3. Sorry, one more thing: looking at the numbers, there is no way the Halloween Party cost only $3,500. That seems misleading to me and I’m not sure why that number’s being thrown around. They must mean they received $3,500 from one source (SAC?) in addition to the $3,100 for the use of Sharples. That means the Halloween party is actually pretty close to the cost of Genderfuck and Yule Ball, at $6,600.

    • That’s correct, the $3500 figure does not include the table removal (which was covered by the Deans). Halloween would be about as expensive as the Yule Ball without the Deans’s extra $ thrown in to cover what SAC could not cover. The difference – which I still think is a perfectly fair criticism, since I went to both parties this year to estimate this – is the attendance, which are not comparable.

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