Updated: Sep 8, 2021
News Editor Alex Mooney, sits down with Students Association President, Lottie Doherty, to discuss everything from the coronavirus to Freshers' Week Top Tips
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the world we live in is a strange, and often confusing, place. As we begin the slow transition back to normality following the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, the new sabbaticals shoulder a unique burden.
They must usher us into the post-COVID era, which they will be instrumental in shaping.
The Saint sat down with Lottie Doherty, the Students’ Association president, to discuss everything from the coronavirus and housing, to her top tips for Freshers’ Week.
“No one should come here and have worse of an experience because they can’t afford it or they’re struggling with online learning, things that have obviously only really affected the past year,” Ms Doherty said.
Her own St Andrews experience has heavily informed both her decision to run and her current presidency. She was moved by the diverse perspectives and experiences of her peers, and hopes to welcome everyone to the table throughout her decision making process.
“I think it’s so important to make sure that everyone is listened to and everyone gets a say. Especially because things that the Uni decides or the Union decides will affect everyone, not just those people that are already engaged with that and part of those processes,” she said.
The job of Association President is no small feat. They act as a liaison between the student body and the university, manage issues surrounding accommodation, sustainability, alumni relations, and strategy, and sit on the University Court.
Vitally, they are often the first point of contact for outside organisations looking for a student perspective on important issues.
“That’s why I think it’s so important [...] for me to listen to everyone’s opinion and get that feedback. I can obviously speak for my own personal views, but I know that there’s gonna be a lot of students out there that don’t share those, and I wanna make sure that whatever I am saying and presenting to the world is genuinely what the students of St Andrews think and want,” Ms Doherty explained.
The responsibility isn’t one she takes lightly.
“Although I am the sort of spokesperson, I don’t want to, like, take anyone’s voice away from them. I wanna make sure that I am listening and amplifying that. Anyone can email me,” Ms Doherty said, “I’m pretty approachable and easy going, so just come and have a chat with me if you’ve got any questions about anything.”
A vocal student body will be a vital part of the University’s re-opening effort. With the Scottish government lifting virtually all restrictions, Ms Doherty is one of many looking forward to a more engaged and “normal-looking” academic year, taking, of course, the necessary precautions.
“We’re working really hard to make sure that we’re not just doing in-person teaching, but we’re getting more of those social events as well, and planning to slowly get back to a more normal situation,” Ms Doherty said, “If we rush and open everything straight away and have everyone back here, and then have to close down again in a couple of weeks, then it’s kind of all for nothing. So, planning to not dive into it, but see what we can provide.”
What remains important is that everyone feels included. “We’re going to try and make sure that there is something for everyone and we’re not just having all in-person or all online, but there’s a mix,” Ms Doherty explained.
“We don’t want anyone to be left out, and I think it’s so important that while the virus is still around, it’s still quite prevalent and we’ve still got some restrictions, and are not all vaccinated, that there’s a wide range of things to do that cater for what everyone is comfortable with.”
But as COVID cases wane and vaccinations rise, there is more time to focus on other pressing issues. The Students’ Association is no longer as restricted by one overwhelming responsibility. They now have some breathing room to tackle other issues besides the pandemic.
“Obviously when the pandemic hit last year, COVID was taking up pretty much everyone’s time 24/7. It was a lot of firefighting and figuring out what was going on, […] but moving forward, there is more time for myself and the other [sabbaticals] to start thinking about other things we can do as well. It’s not all just COVID related anymore, which is quite nice,” she said.
One area of particular importance is housing, a concern for incoming and current students. Both availability and cost remain an issue. It’s a big problem, with no quick solution, but Ms Doherty is up for the challenge.
“Housing is obviously something that’s been an issue in St Andrews for a while, and is not something that we’re going to be able to fix overnight. And I’m not saying that I’ll be able to fix it like that or anything. But I do think it’s something that needs to be at the top of the agenda, especially as the Uni builds more halls and things. It’s making sure that we're constantly talking about: ‘is this affordable? How many rooms are gonna be affordable? What does affordable mean?
Will they actually be affordable to people that need them, and also will they be accessible as well? Will people with disabilities be able to get into those rooms?’” Ms Doherty said.
Beyond addressing specific issues such as COVID and housing, Ms Doherty also hopes that more students will engage with the Students’ Association, and that an overall increase in transparency will prompt students to become more involved in the upcoming academic year.
She explained, “I think being open and honest and transparent about decision making and different processes that are going on for both the Uni and the Students’ Association is really important, because I think the more open and honest about stuff you are, sometimes the less backlash you’ll get about it. Sometimes people get confused about what's going on and that makes them angry.”
Student feedback remains vital in providing direction to both Ms Doherty and the Students’ Association as a whole. The feedback indicates that increased transparency from the Students’ Association would potentially be beneficial.
“I think a lot of people are confused about what it is that the Association does and provides and how to get involved in it. And that is something that I’ve been seeing in feedback, and those are things that I want to make sure we’re listening to and incorporating into these strategies and plans so that we are being more transparent and open for people in the future,” Ms Doherty said.
She continued, “I think if people are being more transparent, then that allows people to get involved easier because you’ll be able to see different ways to get involved. The Uni has had some brilliant student engagement in some areas, especially to do with sustainability. And I think making sure that those sort of practices are continued and communicated well amongst other different areas as well, when we’re working on, like, policy and things, would be really important to increase engagement and ultimately increase satisfaction as well. Because if you get people engaged, you’re gonna get their feedback, and you’re going to make sure what you’re doing is what people want. And we want to do the best for the students, so the best way to do that would be transparent and engaged students.”
But there will always be roadblocks. Ms Doherty herself acknowledges the challenges that come with enacting change within a long-established system.
“Obviously it’s not easy,” she said. “Especially with, like, sort of old institutions and processes because I think you do sort of get set in your ways a bit and don’t always notice new ways to get new ideas in and stuff. I think a lot of the other Sabbs as well as myself have seen quite a few of these places where we can get more engagement, or we can do that better, and working together to, like, make sure that […] getting more engagement is something we’re all really focused on and what to do.”
Of course, there is the ever important duty of increasing awareness about the Students’ Association and what it is that they do. Misconceptions do exist, and Ms Doherty is eager to clear some of them up.
“The main thing I would like people to know about my job is that I don’t manage the other [Sabbaticals] because I think the term, ‘president’ as well can be kind of misleading in that way,” she said, “I’m not in charge of the other sabbs. We work as a team, we’ve all got our own areas that we work on. And obviously we work very closely together.”
Of course, Ms Doherty is not all work and no play. She still has time for some of the fun stuff. Her advice for incoming students on Freshers’ Week?
“Try a bit of everything and get involved in all sorts of things. Go to all the societies, and try out different sports clubs, and take modules that aren’t in your degree, like, subject. I guess at heart I am a bit of a generalist in that I just want to do a bit of everything really, don’t I?”
Alex Mooney - News Editor