Unless you’ve been living in a cave, or Butts Wynd, you must not have been oblivious to the election fever that’s once again upon our little town. Banners can be seen hanging out of windows across town reiterating slogans repeated on flyers handed out avidly in front of the main library, and you might even have gotten a hug or two if you’ve stumbled on the right campaign. Amidst the frenzy however, in the quietness of the New Arts Building, home to one of Saint Andrews University’s most recognisable academic departments, took place the IR school president candidate heckling.

Image courtesy of stu smith, © 2010, some rights reserved.

Image courtesy of stu smith, © 2010, some rights reserved.

The future of International Relations in Saint Andrews rests not solely upon the brilliant work our academics do. Students, the ones who take in the knowledge but also discuss and debate it, and their achievements and welfare, form the true backbone of the School. Consequently, the School President is an important figure in the International Relations student community, and the candidates running for this position all came through as capable and dedicated individuals. One of them, third year Representative Ainikki Rikkonen, even so dedicated as to Skype in from Beijing to present her platform to the audience. After a brief introductory speech by current and outgoing president Noah Ohringer that settled the rules of the game, two minutes speech per candidate, the heckling could begin.

Thom Almeida, a third year joint IR and philosophy student, was the first candidate to take the floor. Opening his statement with a comment about the excellence of the university’s School of International Relations, he quickly moved on to the main focus of his campaign: opportunities and networking. His focus if elected would be to initiate a closer collaboration between the career centre and the school of IR and include more students in networking events.

‘IR is in my name […] it’s a winner’. With those words, second year two-term class representative Mira Boneva begun her pitch. She took advantage of Noah Ohringer’s initial comments on the ‘email culture’ our society is turning into, where too many emails are being sent out en lieu of human interaction, to present her idea of creating a school website that would be a focal point for all IR-related events occurring in and off campus. It would be a platform to counter the current trend of email flooding resulting in those advertising major events going unopened or lost between the latest library returning notice and the weekly student memos. She also pledged to be a president close to the people, with her closing remark: ‘help me to help you’.

Rebecca Schwarz’s platform rests on the two pillars of ‘communication and books’. She started by recalling the need for an IR platform on which students and staff can communicate student-to-staff and student-to-student. The school of International Relations is indeed one of the largest academic departments of our university, and with the amount of joint honours students, it seems hard to achieve a sense of community beyond the odd IR friends made in freshers week and tutorial-mates. She also raised the issue of working space. ‘A lot of other schools have their own dedicated library; why not IR?’. She pledged that if elected, she would work towards building the foundation for such a project, which would enable IR students to have their own space, more books, and a place to socialise amongst students from the same school.

Finally, live from Beijing, Ainikki Riikonen overcame the technical difficulties of Skype to present her pitch to the audience. Her ideas were organised into three sections: staff/student relations, agency, and continuity. She pledged to reinstate “Lunches with Professors” from the very beginning of semester one, to enable students to get to know their professors better, in a less formal setting than the classroom. She also brought up the outreach issue, where she would reach out to student society leadership and cooperate with them, as well as the idea of creating a more student-friendly environment in the New Arts Building, by creating small spaces for students to congregate, work, and relax: a ‘home for our community’. She then tackled the issue of agency, with the advising process that should be addressed in order to make it smoother. Finally, her last pillar is the ‘passing of the torch’, where successes and ongoing frameworks outgoing representatives were working on would be passed along to their successors rather than the newly elected representatives having to learn everything from scratch. She sees herself as a President that would provide structure and vision for the representatives.

From an analytical perspective, all candidates made valid points.  The School of IR is indeed one of the largest and most diverse departments in terms of student body and teachings, and there is so much going on, yet there is a community issue. All four candidates seem to take this into consideration, and all have found innovative ways to remedy this and bring everyone together. Although popular, the use of social media does have its limits, and perhaps a more visible School President on the ground would be welcome. While outgoing president Noah Ohringer reminded candidates that ‘it’s a very bureaucratic position […] I like to think of myself as being a facilitator and a manager’, and arguably a lot is done with the School administrative processes behind the scenes, nothing beats talking to your peers. The next President will certainly have to consider such issues, and working with similar-minded societies like the International Politics Association or the Foreign Affairs Society can only be beneficial to this sense of community. In fact, during the question period, a number of the candidates expressed support for the idea of facilitating cooperation and coordination between the various societies serving the IR community.

All four candidates held their own, and while there are general policies they all agree on, the four manifestos are sufficiently different to allow voters to make an informed and substantiated choice between them. With all four clearly dedicated student leaders eager to try out their new ideas, no matter how this race goes, the IR community is sure to be a winner.

You can learn more about the four candidates on their pages bellow:

Thom Almeida: https://www.facebook.com/VoteThomAlmeida

Mira Boneva: https://www.facebook.com/mirapresident

Ainikki Riikonen: https://www.facebook.com/AinikkiforPres

Rebecca Schwartz: https://www.facebook.com/SchwarzIRPres