Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Over the past two weeks, a lot has been written about the Yule Ball, specifically whether it is an event worth having. Rather than be once again selectively quoted in The Phoenix, I’d like to give a full perspective on why I think that the Yule Ball matters. In my view, there are three general arguments that come up: (a) the Harry Potter theme is too much of a niche and doesn’t appeal to the general populace, (b) we should have a wet winter formal and (c) the Yule Ball is too expensive.
Historically, Swarthmore has had a dry winter formal for many years. It was usually held in Upper Tarble, and almost no one attended. The reason Kat Clark ’12 originally had the idea of creating the Yule Ball, was so that there would be a dry party that people were actually interested in attending. In case members of StuCo are unaware, the Yule Ball actually is their winter formal—the Yule Ball committee just save them the trouble of planning it.
Hundreds of students attend every year, as do many professors and members of the administration (did you see Liz Braun’s dress?). It has also brought some quirky fame for Swarthmore: prospective students wrote about it in their ‘Why Swarthmore’ essays; it was discussed in the 2013 Insider’s Guide to the Colleges.
The Yule Ball is also more than a dance. It brings together a range of activities, such as a waltz lesson, Quizzo questions, and a movie screening and student groups, including the Movie Committee, Quidditch Team, and the senior class officers, and is intended to be a widely-appealing celebration for the end of the semester. In addition to a cappella groups performing, Yule Ball also features a live musical act-Alex Carpenter this year, multiple quotes mentioned how “easy on the eyes” he is.
Over the past three years, we have had very high attendance at the Ball, and everyone seems to have a ton of fun. If we are going to do a dry event that is inclusive and exciting for everyone, we really need to commit to it, and that means a financial commitment. The reality is, that all events are expensive. There was a quote in yesterday’s Phoenix that claimed that the Yule Ball costs twice as much as the Halloween party—that is blatantly untrue. The total cost of the Yule Ball comes to approximately $7000, the total cost of the Halloween party is around $6000.
But in addition to the Halloween party, every weekend, there are a host of SAC funded wet parties going on. For those of us that are uncomfortable at parties where alcohol is served, the Yule Ball is basically it. A dry party does not preclude people from drinking, it is just a less pressurized environment for the people that don’t want to drink. Many of the people at the Yule Ball would be at a wet event on any other weekend–I don’t know where the idea of a “select group of students” being interested got started.
We try to be as conservative as possible with regards to Yule Ball spending. We prepare the majority of the food ourselves, and this year we cut more than $1000 dollars from the decorations budget. However, some expenses cannot be spared. For insurance reasons, students cannot move tables in Sharples themselves; we have to hire an external company. Spending on Yule Ball has decreased every year as we’ve become better at planning and identifying the features attendees care most about. Upper Tarble is too small a space, and the weight limit would SEVERELY limit attendance—that, or the floor would cave in.
In planning the Yule Ball working with SAC has been somewhat frustrating. I appreciate that like all of us, they are busy and challenged with having to negotiate among the varying groups looking for funding. That being said, I was really upset at the implication in yesterday’s Phoenix article that the Yule Ball is culpable for taking funding away from other student groups. It is SAC’s responsibility to allocate funding, and the Yule Ball committee proposed a budget in the spring, just like everyone else.
Without any hint of what was coming, SAC reduced the Yule Ball budget from $4,500 which was promised during spring budgeting, down to $3000. Even though I had been persistently asking for final numbers since the beginning of October, they did not give me final numbers until two weeks before the Yule Ball. This was long after contracts were signed, and way too late to change any of the plans.
For people that don’t like the Harry Potter theme- I am open to suggestions. The only part of all of my interviews (there were three!) that was never printed in any of The Phoenix articles, is that I am totally happy to change the theme of the Yule Ball for next year. I want the Yule Ball to persist as a dry event, and I really think that it can and should exist outside of the Harry Potter fandom. Harry Potter has made sense the past few years because the fandom is so well established, and most people do love it. Further, the ball itself (if you give it a chance), is not actually that related to Harry Potter, it’s just a holiday party, which serves as an opportunity for everyone to put their finest duds on (if they so choose).
There seems to be a solid population of people that want to have a dry formal, with a different theme—come talk to me about it! If it is a fun way to celebrate a semester well done, an event that can bring our entire Swarthmore community together, then I want to try it. The Yule Ball is Swarthmore’s official winter formal—it can have any theme that people are most interested in. I love planning events, that is what I do best, something new would just be a fun and exciting challenge. We have an entire year to plan the next Yule Ball, and we want to make it something that everyone can enjoy.
I still think that the Yule Ball should continue to have a theme—that makes the event special, and unique. It captures the imaginations of the student body, and gives the administration and staff something to be excited about. If we change the theme for next year, there could be a completely different suite of events that could come together, and everyone who participated in the planning of this event (over 60 people by my count), has wonderful ideas.