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The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Students ask for more financial assistance as social event costs rise

The cost of social life at W&L often harms low-income students
Meeting+the+needs+of+low-income+students+who+wanted+to+attend+Fancy+Dress+2024+was+a+challenge+this+year%2C+said+advocates+for+low-income+students.
Veronika Kolosova
Meeting the needs of low-income students who wanted to attend Fancy Dress 2024 was a challenge this year, said advocates for low-income students.

Washington and Lee promises to meet the full demonstrated financial need of admitted applicants. But this commitment doesn’t address the increasing costs of social life, students said.

Students are demanding more assistance for high-cost events, particularly as those events become more expensive.

The cost for a student to participate in all social events in the winter of 2024 exceeds $300, not including Greek life dues. The Office of Inclusion and Engagement (OIE) has been purchasing event tickets for as many students as possible, but the office can’t alleviate the burden of rising prices on its own, said Tamara Futrell, dean for diversity, inclusion and student engagement.     

OIE purchased 50 Fancy Dress packages in 2023, said Fancy Dress Tri-Chair Mary Margaret Greer, ’24. This year, OIE received over 180 immediate responses when Director of Student Activities Laura Ulmer sent an email about free tickets to the student body on March 7, two weeks before Fancy Dress.

“There was a high need and high demand for financial support this winter, in particular,” Futrell said.

Students advertised an unprecedented amount of gatherings this semester between GAB concerts, Fancy Dress, the Equality Gala, and Mock Convention, Futrell said.

Futrell has watched the cost of Mock Con skyrocket during her 20 years at Washington and Lee, she said. The delegation fee for Mock Con 2024 was $165, double the price of the previous convention, which was $80, according to a 2019 Ring-tum Phi article.

OIE paid for 150 students to join state delegations in the fall. Mock Con’s expensive tickets and attire caused many more students to request help in the winter. But Mock Con-related assistance simultaneously limited the OIE’s ability to sponsor as many other events as it would like to, Futrell said. This includes Fancy Dress, a 117-year-old tradition.

OIE has historically subsidized or fully paid for a set number of Fancy Dress tickets to ensure that low-income students can attend the school-wide event, Greer said.

“In this Mock Con year, a lot more people wanted Fancy Dress tickets than the OIE could afford through internal funding or alumni,” said Diwesh Kumar, the vice president of the executive committee.

OIE spent about $20,000 to make Mock Con more affordable in February, said Futrell. While OIE secured 50 Fancy Dress tickets like last year, this number did not meet students’ greater demand for assistance.

The EC then stepped in to purchase another 50 tickets for students with financial need, Greer said.

The Fancy Dress committee was cautious to give OIE any more tickets, Greer said. OIE requested another 70 subsidized tickets, and the committee was concerned that Fancy Dress would lose vital revenue meant to cover production costs and the band contract, Greer said.

As a compromise, the EC agreed to buy 50 full packages, each costing $65, to maximize both Fancy Dress’s revenue and OIE’s goal of including more low-income students. 

“The EC was instrumental in making sure that both entities did well,” Greer said.

The decision to pay an additional $3,250 and make Fancy Dress more affordable for 50 students was simple, said Kumar, who oversees student organization funding. 

“The EC’s money comes from a ‘student activities fee’ that every student on campus, irrespective of scholarships and financial aid, is charged,” Kumar said. “Since our funding is coming from every student, the EC can, should, and is using its money to support programming that affects the entire student body.”   

Fancy Dress sold 1,540 tickets, 100 of which went to the OIE due to this cross-organization initiative. The OIE then determined its ticket list through a multi-day evaluation process with the Office of Financial Aid that ranked students’ level of need, Kumar said. 

Jana Hulsey, president of the Low-Income, First-Generation Team (LIFT) and an OIE ambassador, touched on the impact of these free but limited Fancy Dress tickets. 

“Being low-income and first generation can make it feel like sometimes you don’t belong here, but by providing this solution for Fancy Dress, it feels like I can also participate in events just like other people,” Hulsey said.

Hulsey commended OIE’s and the EC’s effort but said that 100 tickets did not cover every student in need. Hulsey said there is still a long way to go in destigmatizing and advertising OIE’s opportunities as social event costs continue to rise.

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Veronika Kolosova, A&L Editor

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    JEFFREY DUKE SOUTHMAYDMay 15, 2024 at 10:12 am

    The Southmayd Center for American Ideals has been donating money for student events since 2022. Most recently in underwrote the Lex Fest which was free for students. If there is a student group need for funds get in contact.

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