May Balls are iconic experiences in Cambridge, but remain very expensiveSIMON LOCK

A Varsity investigation has found that students who either do not want to or are unable to attend their college May Ball or June Event face difficulties when restricted from their college accommodation while the event takes place.

Concerns have been raised by both students with disabilities and those who feel that May Ball tickets are unaffordable.

Freedom of Information requests submitted by Varsity have found that 12 colleges will prevent some, if not all, students who live in on-site accommodation from accessing their college room on the night of their college May Ball or June event this May Week.

Corpus Christi, Darwin, Downing, Emmanuel, Gonville & Caius, Jesus, Magdalene, Pembroke, Peterhouse, Sidney Sussex, Trinity and Trinity Hall all require at least some students, if not all, living on-site to vacate their rooms on the evening of the College's May Ball or June event.

The number of students required to vacate their college accommodation varies between colleges. Whilst Sidney Sussex requires only 9 students to vacate, 350 students will be restricted from accessing their accommodation on the night of Emmanuel May Ball.

On the afternoon prior to the event, students will be restricted from their accommodation as early as noon, as in the case of Emmanuel, Magdalene and Sidney Sussex.

Students will be able to return to their college accommodation at various times on the following morning. Return times range from 3am at Trinity Hall to 6am at Emmanuel, Jesus and Magdalene.

Only Pembroke and Gonville & Caius do not restrict access for students who are not attending the event. These colleges justify access restrictions for students who are attending as necessary to create an “element of surprise when they walk into the College”.

The other colleges provide various explanations for restricting students who do not attend the event.

A spokesperson for Peterhouse claimed that restrictions are necessary “to ensure that the Ball isn’t gate-crashed by students who have not paid to attend, which would be unfair to those who have.”

At Sidney Sussex, access restrictions are justified as necessary in order to ensure that nobody under the age of 18 can attend, whilst also preventing the event from exceeding capacity.

A spokesperson at Jesus explained that trying to prevent access for people without a ticket creates health and safety concerns. This “necessitates [that] the external doors of each staircase are locked down, preventing access into and out of the area. As such there are health and safety considerations, as the building would need to be evacuated in case of fire”

Of the colleges which restrict access to accommodation, only Jesus and Pembroke make explicit reference to the May Ball or June event in accommodation contracts.

Despite some colleges restricting access to accommodation for up to 18 hours, none of the colleges provide any financial reimbursement.

An undergraduate student at Jesus, who wished to remain anonymous, criticised the lack of compensation offered by their college. The student, who claims that “it’s horrible to turf people out of their homes just for a party”, previously slept on a friend’s floor during the May Ball that they did not wish to attend because it was “overly expensive”.

The student proposed that “the College should offer enough money to pay for a good hotel so that students can choose to take the money and go somewhere else”.

Four colleges- Darwin, Downing, Jesus and Trinity Hall- propose that they have either previously provided support for students who need to alternative accommodation for the night, or are willing to if needed at a future event.

Two colleges – Queens’ and Selwyn – require residents to temporarily leave their accommodation in the afternoon on the day of the event for a ‘security sweep’, after which they can return.

A Queens’ student whose accommodation is on the ‘old side’ of College, where the security sweep takes place, described the process as ‘a complete nuisance’. The student questioned if there was not an easier way to for the College to prepare which does not give students only two hours to get ready for the event.

Of the colleges which will hold a May Ball or June Event this year, six – Clare, Homerton, Hughes Hall, Kings, St. John’s and Wolfson – will not restrict students from accessing their on-site accommodation.

These colleges explained that restrictions were unnecessary because the size of the college or location of event entertainment means that the events can be held without restricting access.

A part-time undergraduate student at Emmanuel College explains that accommodation restrictions during May Balls can create particular difficulties for disabled students.

This May Week is the first year the student will not be attending Emmanuel May Ball. As a wheelchair user, they are uncertain about finding accommodation which is suitable for their needs.

The student explains that they has also had problems in previous years when they have attended May Ball. As a wheelchair user, the college policy that rooms are to be vacated at noon on the day of the Ball creates difficulties. Not only does it mean that the student must carry their belongings needed for the Ball for the afternoon, but finding an accessible place to get ready is also difficult as many colleges don’t have accommodation which is suitable for their needs.

In the student’s first year, this meant that they “had to crawl up some stairs to get ready at a friend's and it was painful”.

In subsequent years, special arrangements have been made with Emmanuel college and May Ball organisers to allow the student to stay in their college accommodation to get ready for the Ball.

However, movement around college remained restricted which meant that the student and their guest could not go outside freely and were locked inside their accommodation for 8 hours. When they did wish to leave, the student had to wait for the porters, who were preoccupied with the May Ball set up, to unlock the doors.

Emmanuel College did not respond to Varsity’s request for comment on this case.

Accommodation restrictions have also caused problems for students with mental health issues.

One student spoke of not being allowed back into college accommodation despite suffering from a mental health episode, triggered by their post-traumatic stress disorder, during the May Ball. The student felt that they had to leave, yet college insisted that they must remain off-campus until the ball was over. The student, in a vulnerable state, had no option but to spend the remaining hours on the streets.

Another student told Varsity that having to find alternative accommodation for the night triggered their pre-existing anxiety.

CUSU Disabled Students’ Officer, Emrys Travis, said  it was "shameful" for many colleges to "deprioritise the students who pay to live in their college rooms, and to whom they have a duty of care, in favour of overinflated security concerns about events that many students cannot afford to attend”.

 “Colleges urgently need to address this issue; students have a right to stay in the rooms they pay for, without being locked inside them".

They explained that the issue of May Ball accommodation is “particularly problematic for disabled students, especially those who are mobility impaired and those who are neurodivergent and/or have mental health conditions". For students with mental health conditions "being forced out of your own space can be an even more stressful experience for them than for non-disabled students”.

Concern has also been raised about accommodation restrictions in relation to the affordability of the events.

Although several colleges have begun to offer bursary tickets for their May Ball or June Event, some students still perceive the events to be overpriced and exclusive.

This year, a May Ball or June Event ticket costs between £85 at Trinity Hall to £345 for a pair of tickets at Trinity College, if bought by a Trinity student.


Mountain View

The exclusivity of May Balls is more than a student issue

Vice President of Class Act, Colin Kaljee, told Varsity that “students from lower income backgrounds face not only being barred from these events due to their financial situation… but the additional stress and stigma of being either removed from college or confined to their rooms”.

Kaljee added that locking students into their rooms results in “isolating and confining students away from their friends for no reason other than their financial background”.

To address these issues, Class Act suggests that colleges “offer discounted tickets to students from low income households and commit to finding suitable off-campus accommodation for students who do not wish to attend May Balls.”

Sponsored links

Partner links