Recently elected as President of the Students’ Association on Friday 9 March, Paloma Paige sat down with The Saint to reflect on the election, the rising prices of student accommodation, perspectives she will bring to the role as an international student, and why she hopes to remain in the UK instead of returning to California after her term ends.
Apart from her new role, Ms Paige has served as a senior student of University Hall, delegate for Model United Nations, head of the design team and member of SSC Council, and a teacher for Dance Society.
Unusually for many students, Ms Paige has spent all four years at St Andrews in student accommodation, specifically University Hall, a decision that stemmed from wanting to give back to the hall but also fears of venturing into private accommodation.
She said, “I was also considering private accommodation because a lot of my friends were thinking about moving out, but I saw the whole process, I was hearing from my academic parents about how stressful the process of finding a flat was, and all these legal things that I not only as a second year student but also just as a person in a foreign country – I was not aware of any of the rules or laws or protections or my rights. Of course, I could look that up, but it was very daunting to go in there and try and do that.” However, after finding her place in University Hall and on its hall committee, she felt comfortable in staying year after year and working to better the community there.
Ms Paige hopes to bring a slightly more personable leadership style to the role
“Because I was on committee for a year, I just loved it so much, and so many of the people I knew were actually staying year to year. It just became really important to me, so that’s why I ran for senior student in my third year, to make a difference, and then I stayed on my fourth just to stayed involved, even though I wasn’t on committee because I knew I wanted to be on council and I couldn’t do both.”
As she’s called university accommodation home for four years, Ms Paige has gained insight on the community aspect of student halls and wishes to bring this experience to those living in private accommodation through making the Union a hub for student activity.
Ms Paige expressed, “Freshers have really great communities in their halls. Once you go out into the world of flats and private accommodation, I hear from a lot of students that a lot of the people that they interact with are just their flatmates — they lose that kind of group that they interact with on a day-to-day basis, so I think again that kind of comes down to making the Union that hub.
She added, “I think we’ve done a really great job this year of making it kind of a hub where students come in and out daily, and I think working with the other Sabbs, it’d be really great to make it even more so, making people more aware of what happens in the union.”
Specifically, on her accommodation policies, she discussed her approach to improving the value of student accommodation as opposed to decreasing the price. “Sometimes it’s not to get the cheap-est accommodation, and I think this is kind of what’s happening with Albany. It’s not the lowest price possible but it’s to get the best value. So what kind of experience are students going to have in these halls of residence? If you have the lowest price, is it even going to be worth it?”
However, Ms Paige also discussed her solution of increasing financial aid for students as accommodation prices increase.
She said, “Rather than bringing prices down, [we need to] focus more on what the spaces look like, so the value, but also looking at how can we help students afford whatever price is put in front of them, and that goes back to increasing the number of scholarships, the kinds of scholarships. The higher prices go, obviously, the more students are going to come under that umbrella, students who find it less and less affordable.”
After serving as senior student for University Hall and being elected to the SSC Council, Ms Paige began to consider running for a sabbatical position in late 2017.
She described, “I started talking to Lewis and the other Sabbs, Charlotte a little bit because I wasn’t quite sure what position I wanted to run for. But I just felt like I wanted to contribute something more to the Association because I’d been on councils and I’d sat on all these meetings when we were discussing things.”
While Ms Paige was serving on SSC this year, she had been elected into a non-voting position, which she expressed as one of the factors that encouraged her to run for a more influential role.
“I get to talk but I don’t get to vote, and I found that incredibly frustrating. I understand why, but I just felt like, ‘I have all these ideas, I have opinions about this, I really wanna do something.”
She ultimately chose the role of President of the Students’ Association because she felt its remit aligned most with her interests, as her focuses next year include Brexit, alumni relations, the upcoming strategic plan, and study spaces.On election week itself, Ms Paige described it as “one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had.”
She said, “I encourage anyone who’s even thinking about maybe running another year to definitely do it because it’s not about winning, it really isn’t. As much as I’m grateful and excited to be able to implement a lot of the things that I spoke about and I’m passionate about, that week alone independent in and of itself was one of the most amazing weeks of my life. It’s when your friends actually come out and really show support for you, and it’s just really touching.”
On the dynamic of the election, including fellow candidate Tom Groves’ campaign, Ms Paige agreed in the importance of challenging the system and the way candidates operate.
Ms Paige expressed, “I think that challenging the way that we do things and the structure and the system and the assumptions we make and the seriousness in which we kind of take it all, I think it’s good to get that challenge sometimes because it gets us self-reflexing, not just as candidates but also as participants in the association. We have to self-reflect and say, ‘Okay, wait for a second, we take these meetings very seriously, we have all these rules and motions, […] but what are we actually achieving? What is the vision we’re working towards?’”
She added that her only concern with the candidacy was an issue of respect.
Ms Paige said, “As much as you want to challenge the status quo, you also want to be respectful of people who are taking it seriously, dedicating a lot of time. I know that all of the candidates that I was with, we dedicated so much of our time. That was a week when I couldn’t even think about my dissertation. […] I think just a little bit of respect was always kind of critical.”
Election night saw a close competition between Ms Paige and candidate Pia Szabo due to the Association’s Single Transferable Voting system (STV), as Ms Szabo was winning with the most votes until the second-to-last round of voting.
I feel like I’ve kind of made myself here, so this is truly my second home
With a nervous laugh, Ms Paige remarked, “Election night was very traumatic because it was so close, and I know why because Pia was an excellent competitor. I think she also ran a really great campaign, a really strong campaign, so when I saw the bars, I was just like, ‘Oh no, it’s fine, I’m just going to mediate a little bit as the results come through.’ It’s still sinking in.”
As the President-elect, with her term not officially beginning until July, Ms Paige discussed her plans to be a more physical presence among students as President and ensuring students always know where to find the Sabbs.
She said, “I would like to make it known to students that they can come and talk to me, even just going to have my lunch down in Main Bar instead of eating in my office. […] I think just knowing that the Sabbs have a presence outside of the office in the Union will be really important, so it’s not like every once in a while you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s a Sabb.’”
On the differences between her presidency and that of current President Lewis Wood, she hopes to bring “a slightly more personable leadership style.”
Ms Paige said, “I think we just have different leadership styles, Lewis and me. That’s not necessarily improving, I think I’ll just be changing the way that the President leads in a way.”
She continued, “I really like to work in person, so with all of the leadership positions that I’ve held before, it’s very much going to speak with people in person no matter what the issue is. Whether it’s something that I wanna get across or I feel like is an issue that needs to be resolved or have a question, it’s always in person.
Ms Paige and Mr Wood also differ in that Ms Paige hails from California, and she remarked on her insights as an international student.
In particular, Ms Paige emphasised her desire for a wider range of schol-arships for students, as in common with many American universities.
She said, “I think that, generally, we could be offering more scholar-ships. I’ve been talking to the devel-opment office about the possibility of increasing the number of corporate scholarships and merit-based schol-arships that are being offered. I think that need-based scholarships are obviously excellent, but I think that also for people at a lot of American universities as well, if you have talent or you’ve been involved in an extra-curricular, odds are that you can find somewhere where a scholarship will give you a little pot of money in rec-ognition of that.”
On Brexit specifically, she em-phasised the importance of standing with other universities, similar to Mr Wood’s letter to Prime Minister Theresa May on Brexit with other Scottish universities.
“I think it’s really important to work with other Scottish universities. We’re not part of the union of Scottish universities, and I think that’s a good thing, but it’s also very important to build those connections and commu-nicate, so we have a strong platform based on which we can all advocate at an international level what Scottish universities want to see out of Brexit and what we want to safeguard against.”
As for her plans after her term as President, Ms Paige expressed her hopes to remain in the UK after her time at St Andrews.
She stated, “I would quite like to stay in the UK, that would be the dream, to work in some kind of polit-ical capacity. I’m actually writing my dissertation on international political economy and agricultural trade, so something to do with that – work-ing for a food corporation, food pol-icy, something along those lines. […] Having spent four years, and it will have been five by the time I’m apply-ing again, I just feel like there’s just so much more to see and so much more to learn about the political environment.”
Ms Paige expressed how St Andrews, and more broadly the UK, have become a second home.
She said, “I’ve been here since I turned 18 […] so I feel like I’ve kind of made myself here, so this truly is my second home. I know it’s kind of a cliché to say, but it really is, so I think that’s hard to leave. It’s hard to go home because you don’t wanna step backwards out of that progression as an adult, as a person. I think staying here symbolises moving forward and to keep improving yourself and building up your life and your career.”