The Saint Elections Team breakdown the manifestos of the candidates running for Director of Wellbeing and Equalities
Candidate: Martin Murray
At the core of Martin Murray’s manifesto is experience. Mr Murray’s engagement with systems of support evidently provide him with both the motivation and life experience for his campaign for the position of Director of Wellbeing. Mr Murray’s strengths, as well as weaknesses, as a candidate ultimately stem from this.
Like so many others over the last few years, Mr Murray has had his university experience marred by that series of interlocking crises which have affected our small town. Covid and the cost of living have exacerbated the ordinary difficulties of student life for Mr Murray. As a result, Mr Murray has engaged with much of the infrastructure of support from the inside - in doing so, gaining a deep familiarity with the strengths and weaknesses of the systems of student support. Mr Murray’s honesty here is refreshing. Sabbaticals are often rightly criticised for being motivated for the wrong reasons - self-interest, self-image, or CV-stuffing. In Mr Murray, by contrast, we see that most important of things - a sense of why he cares.
Mr Murray, in addition to stressing his personal experience with the system has also contributed to university life in other ways. Rather than willy-nilly commitment to the various faceless committees that populate other manifestos, Mr Murray has acted as outreach officer for the Campaign for Affordable Student Housing (CASH). Indicative of commitment to a cause that really matters, Mr Murray once again demonstrates genuine passion.
Mr Murray’s manifesto is strongest when it comes to wellbeing. Mr Murray has a good number of tangible aims - often drawn from personal experience. First is Mr Murray’s desire to create a student support network for those that work jobs while at university. An understandable aim considering the pressure this undoubtedly places on a given individual, this seems a genuine oversight in the existing network of student support.
Mr Murray has some other good ideas. Increasing the flexibility of office hours seeks to achieve a similar thing - enabling those with competing, often employment-related commitments to meet their often hectic schedule. Similarly, he hopes to ensure that mentors from student services will have to communicate annual leave to student and organise a replacement for it in advance.
Yet, where Mr Murray lacks experience, the manifesto loses its tight, focused character, with promises becoming vague and hard to ascertain. Platitudes encouraging support for existing sexual and mental health initiatives or Mr Murray’s call for greater severity for sexual harassment lack the specific detail that would make such promises believable.
One can’t help feel that Mr Murray lacks confidence where he lacks perspective - and this is in no better way demonstrated than Mr Murray’s ‘Equality and Diversity’ section of his manifesto. Here, his lack of clear policy objectives gives a good sense of his disadvantages as a candidate.
Perhaps, however, this is true to form for Mr Murray - who recognises what drives him, and acts upon it. The approach, though genuine, has the drawback of not acting for the whole student body. That being said, in an election full of candidates whose motivations are obscure or questionable, Mr Murray’s approach is an invigorating one.
Candidate: Caitlin Ridgway
Ms Caitlin Ridgway’s manifesto combines her extensive experience in social justice organisation and a number of prospective policy proposals under the banner of “Equality, Empathy, and Advocacy” to inspire potential voters to place a cross by her name at the ballot box.
Experience is the longest section of Ms Ridgway’s manifesto, and understandably so. She details therein the numerous engagements and affiliations she has had over her past 4 years at the University. The most notable of which is her time as the SRC’s (Students’ Representative Council) Gender Equality Officer for academic year 2021-2022. In this role she participated principally in two projects: firstly, she helped to establish the Sexual- and Gender-Based Violence Forum, which she co-chaired with the then-DoWell; secondly, she continued the work of her predecessor in making Got Consent workshops mandatory for all union-affiliated society committees.
However, Ms Ridgway’s experience by no means ends there. For 2 years, she fulfilled the role of Labour Society’s LGBT+ officer. Since 2020, she has been a volunteer for the Got Consent grouping, which works to raise awareness of sexual misconduct, and she has held several roles on both the Amnesty International Society and the Feminist Society. As is frequently the case amongst budding sabbatical candidates, one has the impression that Ms Ridgway’s DoWell candidacy is not a knee jerk decision, but a long-term ambition.
Ms Ridgway sets out 4 explicitly goals vis-à-vis equality in St Andrews. Her desire to “promote Union training initiatives” is both straightforward and deliverable, albeit somewhat trivial: oversubscription to Union training initiatives, such as “condom training and free period product distribution” does not appear to be a significant issue.
A second proposal which is certainly coherent, but perhaps controversial, is that of compiling “a resource and support guide” for students who engage in sex work. Although forces of taboo and personal preference inevitably sway one’s view on the matter, it is nevertheless an act of ‘sticking one’s head above the parapet’ to condone and facilitate openly such lines of student work.
To ensure that student services are up to standard for all who may use them, Ms Ridgway makes intersectionality a key part of her equality pledges with regards to representation and wellbeing support. Asserting that student services “may not be able to provide support that caters to the specific lived experiences of students of marginalised identities”, Ms Ridgway proposes the rectification of this through collation and use of resources of external, specialised support organisations.
With regards to Wellbeing, key plans of Ms Ridgway’s include extra assistance for student volunteers, which would theoretically allow for greater student activism and mobilisation under her watch. In a similar vein, she would endeavour to bring back Got Consent in-person workshops, typically aimed at those who have just arrived at university, and to reinforce the reach of the ‘Report and Support’ system. Above all else, Ms Ridgway emphasises her will to “uplift student voices”, as cliché as this may sound, through active response to local, national, and global current affairs, through a student consultation on the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, and through maintained support for extant campaigns focussed upon student equality and wellbeing.
To conclude, the fundamental message of “Equality, Empathy, and Advocacy” does come through in Ms Ridgway’s manifesto. The policies and aims she enunciates seem relevant to the ideals she espouses. The word “intersectional” is employed 7 times throughout the manifesto, which does make one wonder whether the term possesses a clear and consistent definition throughout, but which equally designates the direction of travel. Ms Ridgway aspires to render wellbeing services accessible to all students who may use them as well as beneficial for members of the wider St Andrews’ community — such goals appear to be natural raisons d’être of any possible DoWell; she claims to be able to do so through the plethora of experience she has gained.
Candidate: Anna Meikle
Ms Anna Meikle’s manifesto, aesthetically, prioritises functionality over aesthetics. It is simple, not overtly decorative, and somewhat resembles a government white paper. This is not a drawback and, on the contrary, gives an air of substance and thought-thick policy which are seldom found amongst the rehearsed scripts of student politics. Points are not accompanied by a wall of text, but rather with incisive and pertinent clarifications, adapted to the DoWell role as Ms Meikle conceives of it.
Refreshingly, Ms Meikle goes through her experiences with a fine-tooth comb, explaining not only what she has done, but indeed the qualities with which each of her three principal experiences have imbued her. Perhaps most relevantly, Ms Meikle has worked as a Crisis Textline Counsellor, which intuitively appears to be a formative DoWell experience par excellence. In addition to this, Ms Meikle has worked as a bartender in The Rule pub-cum-club, where she has “experienced first hand issues to do with substance and alcohol abuse, harassment and unsafe night out experiences”.
It might be a little jarring to read criticism that a sabbatical officer candidate has attended too few subcommittees, but for Ms Meikle this may be the case: the sole committee experience she discusses is her time as the DRA/FP (David Russell Apartments/Fife Park) Committee’s ‘Head of the Charity Subcommittee’. This, admittedly, is a two-sided sword. On the one hand, Ms Meikle’s could be perceived to be the outsider candidate, on the other, one may wonder how au fait she is with the labyrinth of Students’ Union subcommittees and how they can mobilise collectively.
Ms Meikle’s section on ‘Equality and Inclusivity’ may be relatively her weakest. Albeit fundamental to the role of DoWell, equality and inclusivity is best discussed with razor focus on palpable problems and their solutions, rather than platitudes. “To challenge bias at every opportunity”, albeit noble, is insufficiently targeted and appears too abstract when applied to a town whose university student population is, by and large, overwhelmingly tolerant and respectful.
Where there is targeted and palpable policy, it doesn’t necessarily escape challenge: beyond combating hate speech and harassment, as is most reasonable, Ms Meikle’s plan to tackle “microaggressions” via a reliance on the Report and Support makes one immediately think to scandals at other British universities where academics and classmates have been ostracised for accidental or unintentional offense by anonymous reporters. Similarly, the notion of splitting the DoWell role into a director of equality and a director of wellbeing raises questions: just how much work is there to do for sabbaticals already perceived as excessively bureaucratic and email-centric?
Such challenges, which admittedly won’t be made or recognised by all members of the electorate, are nevertheless relatively minor, and Ms Meikle does record certain propositions which are both well substantiated and accompanied by realistic means of achievement. One such proposition is the provision of a quiet room and accessible spaces at the Students’ Union, another is the pledge to “[e]nsure the presence of a diverse representation of students at every discussion or decision”.
Throughout, one sense Ms Meikle’s manifesto is held together by a commitment to a series of impressively tangible set of policy demands. Particularly evident is her commitment to students struggling with the cost of living crisis. Here, instead of vague pleasantries about reducing stigma and providing support, Ms Meikle focuses on what reforms are necessary to make this the case. Cheap or free food is a key one. Cheap, full meals provided at main bar, a push for a free breakfast programme and a commitment to make halls more flexible about food-provision all contribute to a convincing picture of how she hopes to achieve this.
A constructive and innovative approach to those affected by the recent housing crisis demonstrates Ms Meikle’s ability to evolve with the changing demands of the student body. She is brimming with ideas here. Opening up Dundee facilitates to students living there, providing an updated web-page for accommodation in the wake of the crisis and expanding the number employed by student services all provide examples.
Ms Meikle is perhaps strongest where she focuses on the specific, evolving demands of a student population in crisis. When it comes to physical, sexual, mental health and alcohol and drugs, one feels that the manifesto, though wordy, is bereft of the right sort of detail. Nevertheless, such a criticism could be levelled at most candidates for most positions in these elections. Ms Meickle should be commended on her relative clarity and purposefulness, which only occasionally slips.
Photo: from left to right, Caitlin Ridgway, Martin Murray, Anna Meikle.