Undergraduate Xavier Cohen has sparked debate after putting himself forward as a candidate for Balliol Ball President. His manifesto has been seen as tongue-in-cheek condemnation of Balliol Ball as a celebration of elitism.
The manifesto was written as a bid to become president of Balliol’s 2016 Ball Committee, following this year’s ‘Monte Carlo’ themed evening on Saturday 9th May. Cohen is running against one other candidate.
The manifesto proposed to “throw a jokes ‘ball’ with the theme of ‘Bourgeois Balliol Ball’”, following his pledge to “overthrow capitalism for socialism”.
However, the manifesto went on to raise some more serious points about the custom of balls in Oxford, stating, “Whether we admit it ourselves or not, deep down we get off on doing elite shit simply because it’s elite, and this eliteness is predicated on some being at the top (us), whilst others are crushed at the bottom.”
Cohen also expressed his frustration over the fact that his JCR neglected to involve students in the decision to hold the ball, saying, “In future, let’s also have a motion at a general meeting to decide if we actually have a ball in the coming year so that those who don’t want one at least have an opportunity to register their discontent,” adding somewhat tersely that this had led to him to having to “resort to angrily writing ball committee applications”.
Cohen told Cherwell, “Not so long ago, Balliol JCR didn’t hold balls on political grounds, and held a much less fancy ‘event’ instead. I ran for Ball President because… I find it frustrating that the JCR just assumes that we’ll have one without a vote.”
He also highlighted how balls and subfusc, though fun, could “reinforce a really quite nasty hierarchy”.
He added, “When success is defined by being high up in the social hierarchy, of course people want to be a part of something that is characterised in a significant way by it being at the top, especially when you’ve come from the bottom. Our very idea of what is cool and great is hugely marked by this hierarchy.”
Balliol’s Entz rep, Matthew Lynch, attended Balliol’s ‘Monte Carlo’ Ball but felt that Cohen had raised an important point for the College, commenting, “I had a great time at this year’s ball, but there needs to be an opportunity to discuss why it might be a problem, and for people to voice their concerns.
“Xav’s right, let’s think critically about the things that we do here. His manifesto is light-hearted and fun, but it’s got people thinking and talking, and might encourage a GM motion or vote to decide whether this is something that we should do, which I think would be a great idea.”
Mariya Lazarova, a Balliol second year, told Cherwell about this year’s ball, “As one of the ball committee members, the best thing for me was that so many people enjoyed themselves. We had attractions ranging from donutsto a free bar and casino, and I don’t think it was expensive considering what was on offer.”
Balliol College was not available for comment.