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Champagning: Don't Tar Us All With the Same Brush

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The latest St Andrews PR fail taking the internet by storm is 'champagning'. Modelled on the 'milking' craze, which sees the young and lactose tolerant pour dairy products over their heads, the Youtube video in question saw St Andrews students cavort under streams of bubbly.

Soon the student magazines and the national press hit Fahrenheit 451 in their frenzied disgust. It comes at a particularly bad time for the university's image - in the last week it has weathered accusations of elitism due to its admittance of a low number of under-privileged students. To some, the champagning only reinforces its unfortunate reputation as a playground for those with black credit cards bigger than their brains.

So, I would like to take this opportunity to give you an insight into what it is really like to live in St Andrews, from one non-champagne-chucking pleb to another.

I come from a Scottish state school, which has often been of source of mirth and amazement for some of my contemporaries. Responses have included "You went to a comprehensive... But you still managed to get in here?" and "You have a Scottish accent but are from Edinburgh? You went to a state school? That explains it! I've never met anyone not from a private school in the city here!" This can get quite exasperating after a while, but, I suppose, if my career doesn't take off post-uni, I can set up a circus tent in the town centre and charge a small fee for people to see my exam certificates.

However, it seems unfair for the media to portray us all as over-privileged playboys and bimbettes; most of us have worked very hard to get here. Although I agree that there aren't many students here from the most poverty-stricken areas of the country, it cannot be denied that the university holds very high academic standards, and the solution may not be, as some have suggested, lowering the entry requirements, but focusing on providing an excellent state education that gives everyone an equal chance of achieving the admissions criteria.

What I lament about St Andrews is balanced out by the fact that most of the people I have met here, rich or poor, are not interested in how big your daddy's bank balance is. We live in a place nicknamed 'The Bubble', and one of the best aspects of the town's insulation is that prejudices are usually left at the bus station.

Despite the negative attention that champagning has brought us, I can't help but feel that the prevailing response to it is one in a long line of overreactions to decisions made by St Andrews staff and students. At the end of the day, if somebody with more money than sense (I maintain anybody with an iota of intelligence just would have guzzled all the alcohol) wants to pour Moet over their head, then let them do it.

The video has since been removed from Youtube, but even I couldn't help but giggle at the guy who luxuriated in champagne outside a restaurant window, bemused diners not entirely sure how to react. I am sure my response will be read as some sort of cult-esque brainwashing by the gentry, but that will probably be proposed by the same people who need to lighten up about champagning in general.

One soul I can imagine worrying over such a horror would be Hugh Reilly of The Scotsman, who in a recent article on St Andrews wrote, "The [Union] president is tall, dashingly handsome and frightfully well-spoken, thus we had nothing in common. It crossed my mind to ingratiate myself by commenting that it had been a "spiffing" journey up from Glasgow."

Reilly later back-tracked a little, but perhaps it is not St Andrews that is discouraging the under-privileged from applying, but comments like the ones he made? If the champagning incident has taught us anything, it is that the media has a lot of power to construct barriers in the minds of the public.