Manifesto - Annabelle von Moltke
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Annabelle’s Manifesto – A stands for action.
Hello, my name is Annabelle von Moltke and I would like to be your Association President. You might recognise me from the rallies I have organised over the past few weeks in support of the staff on strike. I believe that the student body at St Andrews has enormous potential to create change, and that the Association President has the responsibility and the capability to spearhead that. As Association President I would seek to address students’ concerns relating to their university experience as well as to facilitate students’ ability to create the change they want to see in our community, on both a local and national level.
Over the last three and a half years I have been deeply engaged with various facets of student life. My work as a student ambassador since first year has provided me with ample experience in representing the university and professionally communicating about the student experience to a public audience. My tenure as Social and Publicity Representative of the MMA society, during which I aimed to develop an inclusive and cohesive club environment, further enhanced my skills of cooperation and communication. My recent activism in support of the strike, as well as my year-long research internship at ‘Third Generation Project’ - a think tank in the School of International Relations devoted towards promoting the collective human rights of communities disproportionately affected by climate change – demonstrate my passion and pro-activeness in advocating for social justice.
Before delving into my key areas of focus, I would like to outline the ethos that would guide my work, namely cooperation, communication, and action.
Communication and cooperation are central to achieving successful action. St Andrews has an abundance of professional expertise and student committees with in-depth knowledge of the issues facing the university and student body, which I believe are vital to involve in strategy formation. Furthermore, working closely with the university as well as reaching out to other local and national bodies is central to forming long-term sustainable policies. I also firmly believe in engaging with students beyond their elected representatives. I would host informal café or pub ‘office hours’, during which any student could approach me to voice their concerns, give me feedback or seek advice. Secondly, I would create frequent polls, promoted over email and social media, to provide me with another source of public opinion and which students could participate in anonymously. Finally, I would be pro-active in seeking out students’ views by visiting halls, both undergraduate and postgraduate. By implementing these changes, the student body can have more a more immediate input in directing policy. Communication is a two-way street and listening is as important as speaking when it comes to the formation of policy.
Going beyond student-informed and president-initiated change, however, I would like to foster more of a culture of student activism at St Andrews. I have never met as many people who are interested in the world around them as at this university. My experience organising rallies in support of the strike, which hundreds of people turned up to, has led me to believe that what is lacking is not engagement but a culture of collective expression and an awareness of potential funds to initiate it. Therefore, in cooperation with the Director of Events and Services and drawing on the expertise and networks of our new rector Srdja Popovic, I would host a range of inspirational activists to come speak about their work and career paths, with discussion forums afterwards for students to discuss their ideas. Promoting budgets such as the Student Project Fund, which individual students have access to, would further enable students to take individual and collective action to address the issues which they consider of paramount importance. Your voice can make a difference! Use it!
Association President Activism
As Association President I would exercise the substantial opportunities for political engagement provided by the role, particularly on a national and regional level. This campaigning would naturally pertain to issues which directly affect the student population, such as rising tuition fees, the post-graduation working conditions of students on visas (potentially soon to include EU students) and finally Brexit. The current Association President, together with representatives of other Scottish Higher Education Institutions, has already released a statement highlighting the potential threat to the Higher Education sector Brexit poses. The coming year presents a pivotal time in Brexit negotiations during which it will be important to make out voice heard. I would work to further defend our rights and privileges, highlighting in particular the value of the Erasmus Exchange Programme and the extent of research funding provided by the European Union. Finally, I would commit to communicating to the students the Student Association’s stance and involvement in these political issues in a separate, quarterly email, which would also inform students of avenues of participation and anonymous feedback.
Now I shall discuss my ideas relating to areas of the student experience which I have identified as in need of particular attention.
Mental health concerns all of us, not only those with a form of diagnosis. Maintaining a work-life balance can be difficult in an environment which is both academically challenging and bursting with extra-curricular events and activities. Working closely with the Director of Wellbeing, and alongside promoting existing initiatives and institutions such as Mental Health Awareness Week and Nightline, my approach would focus on prevention and support.
The first step in preventing unhappiness with regards to one’s in mental health is de-stigmatising it as a condition of the ill. This could be approached by mobilising the extensive, multi-disciplinary expertise of the academic staff of university in the form of lectures educating on mental health. Furthermore, by promoting existing projects like the vegetable gardens (which encourage students to grow and harvest their own food for free) as well as investigating the potential for more permanent indoor spaces for relaxation, I would encourage students to take more ‘down time’ away from the hustle and bustle of the ever-productive seeming union and library.
Support when one’s mental health has suffered is a more sensitive and multi-dimensional issue. The popularity of the recently-introduced alpaca method of de-stressing demonstrates the demand for such sources of emotional support and comfort. I would review the effectiveness of the current regulation of the scheme, which has up to a hundred students converging upon a single alpaca at once. I would propose to introduce more frequent, yet numbers-regulated, animal comfort sessions as well as explore alternative methods of stress-release and -reduction, together with the Director of Wellbeing, student services, and wellbeing committees. Finally, in the face of perceived student dissatisfaction, I would like to address the institution of student services itself. First, I would review its perceived and intended functions, and, if these are discrepant, seek to re-align them. Secondly, if it is, in fact, outside of the current remit and capability of student services to provide effective care for more long-standing or serious issues of mental health, then, together with the university and relevant actors, I would like to explore possibilities for expanding this remit and further training staff or seeking affordable and effective solutions for students elsewhere. The current mental health situation at St Andrew’s is not sustainable and needs to see change.
St Andrews is right to pride itself on its national diversity, however, different types of diversity desperately need to be strengthened. Whilst this is undoubtedly a long-term and multi-faceted project, I would like to work closely with the university administration as well as actors such as the Member for Racial Equality to prioritise and strategize the ethnic and socio-economic diversification of both the student body and the teaching staff. This initiative would include but not be limited to further enabling the work of the Widening Participation Scheme of the Student Ambassadors as well as of other outreach programs and promoting Pangea and the #ITooAmStAndrews campaign.
Affordable and liveable accommodation remains one of the most persistent and pressing issues of life at St Andrews. As regards renting I would expand upon and more intensively promote the current Association President’s invaluable work. This includes a ‘How to Rent’ guide (which contains a collation of information regarding private landlords, letting agents and alternative ways of sourcing property), and the newly instituted week of accommodation-related events. It is important that you know you’re your rights as a tenant, especially given the recent legislation pertaining to renting, and to not be caught unawares by lack of experience, for example, by failing to document pre-existing damage which then ends up being deducted from your deposit. Furthermore, I would seek to create an online platform on which students can rate properties and property managers. In terms of halls, I would promote the students concerns regarding the lack of affordability of many of the new options to the university. Finally, I would explore the possibility of more widespread accommodation grants and subsidies to also mitigate the social segregation of the incoming student population into those who can and those who cannot afford the more expensive options.
Sexual Harassment and Assault
Sexual misconduct and assault is another area where we need more preventative and supportive action. Whilst various campaigns and organisations, such as SHAG week, Sexpression and stAnd Together exist and do great work, I would like to initiate more of a visible and sustained campus-wide initiative, promoting awareness and discussion as well as mechanisms of support and action surrounding sexual assault and harassment. According to articles in both the Independent and the Guardian in the last few days, three in five students have been sexually assaulted or harassed during their time at university. It’s time for St Andrews to take part in this nation-wide conversation. Cambridge University have created an impressive online platform called ‘Breaking the Silence’ which includes anonymous incident reporting, online consent training videos, and a collation of information regarding support, advice and action available to those affected. As a starting point I would want to review the effectiveness of the ‘Got Consent’ workshops and strategize ways to increase their attendance. Ultimately, I would want to work towards Cambridge’s model (https://www.breakingthesilence.cam.ac.uk/), which involves highlighting the prevalence of the issue on campus and addressing it through various mechanisms, including student led initiatives and discussion forums.
Last, but definitely not least, as Association President I would create a section on the Student’s Association website dedicated to the environment. It would address both those that seek to be environmentally-friendly in their living on an individual basis, as well as those that would like to become involved in the various collective forms of environmental promotion and activism that exist in St Andrews. As regards individual behaviour the page would include a guide on how to live more sustainably, detailing, for example, recycling practices and points, and, once again, the abundant free vegetable gardens. In terms of engagement and collective action, this site would collate details of such groups as the Tree or Pop Down Project and individuals such as the Environment Officer to provide students with ample opportunity to become involved.
From this manifesto I hope you can see that I am a pro-active, passionate, and caring person who is dedicated to fighting for the best interests of the student body. As important as my own ideas are, really, as Association President, I am here to listen to and to represent what YOU have to say about what can be improved about life at St Andrews. Through communication, collaboration, and action it is up to us to create the kind of university we want to have. Please vote for me as your Association President and together let us be the change we need to see.