The decadence at Trinity May BallKate Crowley for Varsity

As a first year, I was both intrigued and excited by the prospect of May Balls. Having heard nothing but tales of glamour, beauty and decadence — and yet unable to afford the high prices of most — I eagerly signed up to work at as many as possible. Working was promoted across student pages like Camfess as a way to experience the ball without the price tag. Google Form after Google Form was filled out in eager anticipation.

“Committee members directed workers to refrain from ‘stealing food’”

While I worked at several other June Events, nothing was as thrilling as the prospect of working at Trinity May Ball – with a budget in the hundreds of thousands and a dazzling firework display, I wanted a taste of the glamour without the price tag of £225.

Trinity May Ball was unique, in more ways than one. Working at this event showed me another side to Cambridge – one of riches, snobbery and entitlement that I had heard about, but hadn’t experienced in my year at the university. My experience made the Oxbridge stereotypes like those about drinking societies, populated by Eton alumni who burn money in front of homeless people, much more believable.

The organisation of the ball itself was shambolic – committee members were aloof and disdainful as they directed workers to stay in the break room and refrain from “stealing food”. Having been promised two hot meals throughout our 12 hour shift, we were met with a vat of lukewarm penne pasta and some tomato sauce. By 3AM, when I had my break, only cold pasta remained. One worker told me he was “refused a banana in the workers’ room and had to deal with a lack of support from the committee”. The crepes, sushi, bao buns, desserts and culinary extravagance experienced by the guests were firmly off limits to us.

“I had heard about the reputation of colleges like Trinity – and that night, it lived up to the stereotype”

It was not only the committee members who treated us with disdain. Guests deliberately smashed champagne glasses for fun and left us to clean up the shards. Upon telling one guest not to take his glass in a certain area, I was met with the incredulous question “do you not know who I am?”. Another guest asked me if I could do anything about the “normal people” who had gathered in punts on the river to watch the fireworks – because “they haven’t paid for this”. Another Trinity alumnus, upon hearing that I went to a hill college, sneered at me and suggested that working at the ball was the only way I could get in. We all got into the same university – but the superiority of the guests seemed like they didn’t think so. The way that guests were disrespectful to workers and to members of the public was genuinely shocking.

It wasn’t just me who had this experience. Many of my coworkers had a similar one. Another first year worker told me that Trinity May Ball proved every stereotype they had heard about Cambridge before coming. They commented that they had “never felt more uncomfortable and out of place at this university” than working that night.

Other May Balls were much more welcoming to student workers. At Pembroke May Ball, committee members checked in with us constantly, offering reassurance and asking if we needed anything. At Pembroke, just as at Corpus and Emmanuel, student workers were able to skip the huge queues for food trucks in order to eat on our 30-minute breaks. Other May Balls might have been similarly disorganised, but at none of the others were student workers treated with so much disregard. Before I came to Cambridge, I had heard about the reputation of colleges like Trinity – and that night, it lived up to the stereotype.


Mountain View

May Ball or bust?

Working at Trinity May Ball really was a shocking and eye-opening experience. Paying several hundreds of pounds to attend a ball does not make you entitled to be rude to those who are tirelessly working to make the evening more enjoyable. For the richest of all individual colleges, Trinity really does show that there are some things money can’t buy – respect, decency, and care. There is one that it does: entitlement.

Varsity approached the Trinity May Ball Committee for comment (02/07).