Deputy Editor, Olivia Bybel, interviewed some of the top figures in the Students' Association to explain about the upcoming elections.
It’s nearly that time of year again. The exhilarating few weeks that our Facebooks, emails, and, in past years, library walkways are bombarded with information about the Student Association Election. While many of us might be feeling more disconnected from St Andrews than usual, student democracy forges on. The Saint sat down with Emma Walsh, current director of wellbeing (DoWell), to discuss the upcoming election and how important it is for students to participate.
Ms Walsh is one of six elected sabbatical officers—or recent graduates who run the union. They each lead student representation in different areas. She, as the director of wellbeing, serves as the senior elections officer and is responsible for “leading on the campaigning, nominations, publicity, and event planning,” as well as being “the point person in the election process.” With support from the other sabbatical officers she has “been doing most of the planning” for the upcoming student election, and will be running it as goes on in March.
In the Student Association election, “all the sabbatical positions, which are full time paid representatives, the association positions, the student services council, the student representatives council, and school presidents positions are up for election.”
“Almost every single position on councils is up for election. There are a few that are co-opted such as rector’s assessor, ents convener, the On the Rocks coordinator, principal ambassador, and a few others.” The size of the Student Association election can feel overwhelming, but it is important that students read up, and participate.
“Whether or not you are aware of it, your elected student representatives do so much for you.” One issue championed by a sabbatical officer which had an impact on students is the ability to SP-Code the three terms affected by the pandemic. “The recent development in the availability of SP-Coding, and academic mitigations, was fought for by the director of education.” The Student Association election, and its many positions, has a wide variety of influence, ranging from BOP’s on friday nights, to charity, and to consent workshops. Alongside voting for the director of events, students will vote for positions like “charities convener, mermaids president, accommodation officer, and member for gender equality.” Ms Walsh emphasised, “when you think about all these background things going on, and progress being made, a lot of that is actually headed by student representatives. Students are benefitted [sic] in countless ways.”
Like most things this past year, the Student Association election will look different due to COVID restrictions. “Unfortunately, I had hopes last semester that we might be in a better place to do some things in person, but this will be a fully online election.” It will be run similarly to the Rector’s Election earlier this year, as well as putting more emphasis on Instagram. This decision was made, “not only because of COVID restrictions, but because even if something changes and we are allowed to do more things in person, I want to make sure that students who aren’t in St Andrews, because they could not return or chose not to, have equal footing in the election.” It is important to Ms Walsh that students all have a “fair chance” in their election.
Ms Walsh stressed how important it is for students to vote. “If you have an agenda for something, or want to see something done, put that pressure on the candidate…. Ask them questions, talk to them about their campaign, make an informed choice.” The purpose of the election is “that the union and the University can be the best it can be next year.” Student democracy is a way in which we can all have a say in our experience in St Andrews. It is crucial that elections are representative of the actual student body, and the way to ensure that is to get informed, and participate.
Most of these positions are open for anyone to run for, though school presidents must come from their respective schools. “Traditionally sabbatical officers are recent graduates, fourth years who hope to stay after they graduate, or thirds years taking a year off of their studies.” This, however, is not an official restriction. If you are thinking of running, it is not too late!
The sabbatical officers are six of the positions up for election this March. They are full-time, paid positions. Much of the Sabbs work goes on behind the scenes, and for those who may not be up to date on the intricacies of running the union, what exactly they each do can be confusing. The Saint reached out to the current sabbatical officers to share a little about their role within the University, and how it impacts students.
Dan Marshall, Association President
Mr Marshall outlined his role: “The Association president is responsible for representing students on a broad range of issues such as accommodation, widening access and sustainability among other things. They are also responsible for the external relations of the Students’ Association handling media enquiries as well as our relationships with the local community and alumni. Alongside the director of education, the president represents students on University Court, the governing body of the University.”
He expressed that on of his greatest achievements this year “was ensuring that students in halls received rent refunds if they were unable to return to campus due to government lockdown preventing travel.” Mr Marshall added that he has “been working on making sure the University provides greater clarity to students on key issues.”
Sophie Tyler, Athletic Union President
“The AU President is responsible for overseeing the governance and development of the AU and student sport at the University. They represent the sporting needs of students within the University and also represent St Andrews externally within the sporting world.” Ms Tyler also “works with the rest of Saints Sport to support club development and club’s day-to-day operations” and line manages The AU executive committee. “Recently, two groups have been formed looking at sustainability in sport and EDI in sport which the President co-chairs.”
This year, “Saints Sport was the only university department to run an in-person event during Freshers week, we had over 2000 people attend in total (only 200 people at any one point) and the event was a huge success, and importantly, very safe! We also put in a procedure which enabled a safe return to sport and subsequently had more sport happening than any other university during Semester 1.”
Ms Tyler shared that she has “been working to make all our procedures significantly better for our clubs and updating our policies to make them clearer and more efficient to follow. This should make things easier for our clubs and our staff. At the same time, I’ve been working with other University departments to create guidance for clubs on various issues such as sexual misconduct and health and safety laws.”
Amy Gallacher, Director of Education
Ms Gallacher shared that “the Students’ Association director of education (DoEd) is responsible for overseeing and coordinating the work of the academic representatives at the University. They represent students across both faculties on all matters relating to education, employability and postgraduate studies as well as in their capacity as a student governor to the highest governing body at the University, University Court.”
Ms Gallacher “works daily with the Proctor’s Office on University policy as well as to develop the academic experience at a school-level.” and supports “the faculty fresidents, PG academic convener, school presidents and modern language conveners with student-led projects and initiatives that bridge the school and university levels.”
This year, Ms Gallacher collaborated with the University “to provide students with a safety net in light of the ongoing disruption in their studies.”
“My greatest achievement this year is the set of recently announced academic mitigation,” she said.
She added that she is “proud of the ongoing review of PG representation which will provide a set of recommendations based upon consultation with other institutions, surveys and focus groups to improve and enhance the postgraduate experience at St Andrews.”
Tom Groves, Director of Events and Services
“As DoES, I’m responsible for the Union’s entertainment schedule. I manage bookings for venues like 601, Beacon, and Sandy’s, and help societies to plan and promote their events. Alongside permanent staff, I oversee the Union’s bars, cafes, and marketing strategy.” Mr Groves also line manages “6 subcommittees: STAR, Mermaids, Design Team, Ents Crew, On the Rocks, and Music Fund.”
The role of the DoEs looked different this year than it did in the past. “I have spent a lot of time improving the website, yourunion.net, and developing the Union’s outdoor spaces, like the Piazza and FiEld. I’ve also worked closely with the University’s Can Do group, rewritten the Union’s discipline procedure, and grown the Union’s Instagram account by 4,000 followers.”
Gavin Sandford, Director of Student Development and Activities
Mr Sandford explained that “as director of Student Development and Activities I oversee most of the activity-based subcommittees – Mermaids, Debates, Charities, SVS, BAME, LGBT, PG, Music Fund and OTR – as well as all societies through the societies officer and committee.” He also works “with the University on student development including careers, entrepreneurship, employability, and volunteering”. He added that he is also “the Sabb for lots of the experience-based student representation within the Uni: orientation, museums, arts, and (this year) lots of work as part of the Can Do Group.”
Emma Walsh, Director of Wellbeing
In addition to being the lead on internal democracy Walsh is, “the lead representative on areas involving mental/physical/sexual health as well as representation and equality. I line manage several of the Union subcommittees and am in regular conversations with the University about how we can make the whole community a safer and more welcoming place for students, as well as how support services can be improved.” She expressed that her role is crucial “for proper representation of students” as she heads student elections, “your elected officials represent the student body at high levels.”
St Andrews today, is different then it has ever been before. The student body faces a unique set of problems, and student representation is more important than ever. Nominations open 22nd of February and are open for a week after. Voting will take place on the 4th and 5th of March.