Inside a college festival

Liss Salander crossed the ticket line.

Liss Salander crossed the ticket line.


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Any college student will tell you it’s supposed to be the loosest and most unforgettable night of the social calendar. The stench of urine floats from portaloos, alcohol flows freely (metaphorically, that is) and students lose all inhibition because, as Erasmus would tell you, “no party is any fun unless seasoned with folly”.

Most colleges at the University of Sydney host their own festival. From St. Paul’s Surreal Sounds to Wesley’s Carnivale, these ticketed parties draw big name DJs and corporate sponsors.

But behind the scenes the hype is contagious and spreads like wildfire, driven, of course, by the seniors’ need to have the most intoxicated bodies in attendance than any other college.

The events become so financially consuming that in order to earn a profit or just break even, colleges must sell more tickets each year. First year college students become the festival’s foot soldiers. They have to change their profile pictures, wear cultish T-shirts around campus, and sell as many tickets as possible.

They have to do anything to secure the wishes of their commanders: seniors and social executives. But like war to a pacifist, it is both unnecessary and could be done in a more efficient and humane manner.

Due to an intense desire to please, college Freshers undergo a tremendous weight of social pressure. Gathered in groups, they try squeezing as much money out of as many random Facebook friends and campus strangers as possible. They are met with warnings like the last group to have not sold all tickets will be on bar or clean up duties during and after the event. Freshers, fearing the loss of an epic night, shell out money from their own accounts to pay for all their tickets. Some transfer up to $3,000 in the hopes that it will be refunded, often guaranteeing a financial loss for whoever had the optimism and aspirations.

When the weeks pass by and the hard copy tickets still remain, all Freshers are told that this is partially their fault. The tickets must be sold or else, as the threat often follows, the Freshers will have to buy them. Fear turns to desperation as some Freshers from cities and rural towns outside of Sydney must admit they have no friends left to sell tickets to. It becomes a very expensive night for these individuals.

For the Freshers who have an RSA license instead of a full and ready bank account, they become the servers of alcohol and the bearers of bad news (no one wants to be sober at a festival). No Fresher will dare to speak up or argue with the status quo when a negative comment or unfavourable mumble could label them an arrogant Fresher. “Frarogance”, is the humiliating epithet thrown in front of fellow collegians or used to intensely shame freshers on private college social media pages.

As a fresher, it became clear to me that the social ‘bonding’ at college is often achieved through mutual fear and public shame. Rituals continue even after OWeek. Every year, the Freshers are fresh, but their festivale roles remain the same. It’s a tradition that all Freshers must go through in order to be accepted. The mentality exists that ‘if we had to do it, then so do you’. The senior collegians enable the cycle to continue when realistically the most effective method of getting bodies to parties has moved beyond word-of-mouth and onto screens. If the rules of engagement have changed, is Fresher ammunition still necessary? Or are collegians unable to change their stripes, in the same way the colleges are unable to shed their colonial sandstone walls.