The hopeful presidential candidate is running on various platforms to build on his work starting the Stirling Help Not Harm movement here on campus, and has a whole host of ideas for how to take things to the next level so the campus is safer for everyone.
Andy Paterson is no stranger to organising movements and getting things done, both externally and internally within and outwith campus. A fourth-year politics student, Andy has primarily been involved in work within the Help Not Harm Campaign, especially but not restricted to here at Stirling, and was one of the founders of the movement on campus in 2021.
Help Not Harm
“I’ve been a harm reduction campaigner for three years now and that started with Peter Krykant We started at the University of Stirling kind of pushing for the Union and the university to take a kind of harm reductionist approach to their policy making, which then got passed by the Union. So it’s the reason that we’ve got testing kits and resources from the mental sexual and drug health charity Crew 2000 on campus now. That was a direct result of our campaigning in conjunction with others.”
Andy continues to elaborate on his work and a bit of history of how the Help Not Harm Movement gained traction in Stirling, as it is across many universities that the initiative has been proposed and working in tandem with these campaigners is important to Andy, as “…it’s definitely not just a Stirling problem and affects a huge percentage of the Scottish population, with some of the highest drug deaths in the world.”
“It’s been a campaign that’s been running for a while and it’s at first it was just to kind of get a bit of name recognition and then we stood around the university taking names and opinions from students.
“Fast forward a couple of years and obviously we have the harm reduction kits and educational material now passed with the student union. We’re in talks with the university to kind of get them to change their tack. We also have campaigns at Heriot Watt University and Dundee University, as well as Glasgow.
“So it’s a campaign that again is not just focused on Stirling, but aiming to tackle the entirety of the drug problem that is here in Scotland and and on that point exactly.
“We had a petition launched at the end of December there which hit the number of signatures required to be viewed in the Scottish Parliament. And that was viewed by the parliaments petition committee this week. So I’ll be going back over there footage of their recorded meetings and publicizing to see what they’ve said from those meetings. So we’re hoping to take it now.”
Brig inquired as to one of Andy’s manifesto points about better assistance and mental health help for everyone, especially those struggling or with substance abuse issues on campus. Counsellors at the university are not equipped to deal with drug issues but can signpost. Andy had this to say:
“When it comes to counselling, I’ve had words with a counsellor at Stirling University, and I was a little bit worried because the Scottish Government obviously cutting funding and to counsellors at university plants. So I asked them when I was obviously worried that we might lose counsellors. But he said not to be worried.
“He said that the university completely funds that councillors that we have here, which is really good news. Firstly, it means that the Scottish Government budget allocation doesn’t matter when it comes to potentially training or signposting better.
“Our councillors, it’s all down to the how the university once they receive funding so the student union can really pressure the university into funding more counsellors. And when it comes to kind of harm reduction or maybe kind of specialties that counsellors aren’t too familiar with, same posting as a fantastic start. But I also think the university has access to a lot of space that it doesn’t quite use yet. And I think it needs to upgrade its communications and links with third party organizations, so charities like Crew who should maybe be invited to come in to kind of deal with these issues. So it’s not just sending students away, but it’s actually bringing in outside organisations if possible.”
It is clear while Andy is passionate about many other issues, the Help Not Harm Campaign is extremely important to him.
“There’s a local charity called Change Grow Live, which do the exact same thing as Crew. Well, similar things as correction says the exact same. They do similar things as Crew and they deal with kind of addictions issues and issues around drugs as well.
“And it’s important to highlight that it’s not just drugs. It’s kind of people’s relationship with alcohol as well can be quite problematic at times. And yeah, it’s just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s not still an issue, I mean, especially in Scotland. And you know, there’s always this stereotype with students and drinking so.”
Removing Food Stigma
Andy is running on a platform of the notion that students can get together once a week or so and cook a meal together, free, “no questions asked.” When asked to elaborate on this a little, Andy was very clear:
“So when it comes to that [communal meals] it’s just no questions asked. There’s just to attempt the removal of any sort of stigma that there is there. So when it comes to asking for help, stigma is a huge barrier to a quite a lot of people. So whether that is stigma around alcohol and drugs or stigma around the kind of fears of looking like you’re picking up a free meal, we’ve seen it across schools when they implement free school meals. So I used to be on free school meals as well. And you would always be somewhat separated. And that’s quite an anxiety.”
“We would be putting on these evenings very much like the student union has now with their free breakfast, they would just be in the evening and people could just come around and share a meal. So whether that’s a big vegan curry for everybody to share or whatnot, just at least maybe once a week try and get it more regular. And I think it could bring people together as well – community”
“Also making sure that staff and students are fed during this cost of living crisis. But it’s also a forming of community here. So whether we can do that through the student union or we can get volunteers in, I’m currently working as a chef myself. So I’m more than happy to put in the hours in the evening to cooking for everybody!”
Making our campus safer
TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT
Alongside many other efforts to decrease the prevalence of sexual assaults, whether on or off campus, Andy wants to help to streamline specifically the process for reporting these incidents to the university, and is unhappy with the current procedures, as are many students.
“So obviously it’s a very sensitive issue, but an incredibly important one…
“When it comes to the reporting issues at the university, you currently have two options you can report anonymously or you can meet and have contact with a university sexual violence misconduct liaison officer.”
“And so if you report anonymously at the minute, you’ll be sent to an online survey where you would fill out the details of how kind of yourself and the person that you want to be reporting. So they will ask you things like whether you’re reporting on behalf of yourself or a friend/family member. They’ll ask you questions about where this incident and abuse might have happened, whether it’s on university campus or away from there.”
“…it’s an exercise and collecting data that happened and at the very end before you submit your report, the university makes it very clear that nothing will be done with the data. It is for numbers mostly.”
“Yeah. So, when you finish this report, it asks you if you want to submit it, and then it says you’re choosing to submit an anonymous report. Please be aware that no action can be taken nor advice provided on behalf, because it’s in the anonymous report. And I personally don’t think that is anywhere near good enough.
“Reporting is an incredibly brave thing to do,” Andy said. “It takes quite a lot out of a person, especially when there are so many incidences of reporting not leading anywhere and people feeling more disconnected from the system that is there to support them.
“And so if someone doesn’t feel like they want to have that face-to-face conversation with sexual violence, misconduct layers and officer, then the reporting, anonymously should be an accessible way to go.”
Work External From The University
Outside of the university, Andy has been involved with various charities such as Volunteer Midlothian.
He said: “With that kind of background, working with a charity and the union being a registered charity, I have some experience in their third sector as well, so that’s whether that’s dealing with funding applications or it’s dealing with of Council rules. All those integral parts that are a part of being a part of a charity, I do have experience with as well.”
To read Andy’s full manifesto, click our link here and do remember to cast your vote when the ballots open today!
Featured Image Credit: Andrew Paterson