It is known that the United Nations seeks to promote peace, but it can, at times, feel rather exclusive to the outside world. How can students gain debate experience and argue for peace and solutions to international issues?
So exists Model United Nations (MUN). Across high schools and universities throughout the world, Model United Nations clubs have been set up for students to understand how the UN functions. Participants, known as delegate, try their hand at tackling global issues while developing public speaking and debating skills. Misha Sumar (‘16), co-chair of the SLC Model UN, believes confidence is one of the biggest things gained from participating in Model UN. "Regardless of your profession, it’s so important to be able to stand in front of a crowd and articulate yourself," she explained.
Sumar said she has truly seen her fellow delegates gain these skills and grow from the beginning of the year, when many were afraid to speak, to fearlessly raising placards at the attended conventions.
Fellow co-chair Harsha Raghunandhan (‘17) thinks that gaining a global perspective also comes with participation. "Since students are made to represent countries they may not be from, or countries whose policies they may not agree with, they develop unique insights into a country’s point of view," he said. "An American student, for example, may not have anything in common with the stated ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but having to represent that country means a fundamental understanding of why the country behaves the way it does, and so on. There’s no better way to understand international diplomacy."
Founded in 2008 by Zeynep Goksel and Serena Wuennenberg, SLC's MUN chapter has represented a multitude of countries from Pakistan to Thailand at a number of regional conferences.
Most recently, from Feb. 12-15, the delegates traveled to Cambridge, Mass. to take on the Harvard National Model United Nations, one of the largest conferences in the Northeast, hosting over 5,000 delegates from over 70 countries. At their first and only conference of the year, the majority of the team represented Lithuania, while the co-chairs opted for specialized agencies, debating as people or institutions. Raghunandhan represented the Education Minister in the Iranian Cabinet while Sumar represented an NGO, Freedom House, in her committee.
The team faced many challenges.The club was rather dormant last year until being resurrected this year, meaning the team was building their strategy from the ground up. For many of the delegates, this was their first times participating in a MUN conference.
Sumar, however, said that any nerves held by first timers were short-lived. “Once we got there everyone jumped right into it and adapted really quickly, and we all supported each other, which helped a lot,” she said.
For the first time in SLC's history, the MUN team came back with awards. Raghunandhan received a verbal commendation for speaking skills and Sumar received the Outstanding Delegate award in each of their respective committees. However, the co-chairs are not excited for the wins just for the prestige.
"This win is so exciting, because it’s brought Sarah Lawrence into the international Model UN circuit," said Sumar.
So what does the future hold for the club? The club is looking forward to not just attending more conferences (such hopes include NMUN DC and Philadelphia MUN) but to also recruiting and expanding. Sumar and Raghunandhan are hoping their most recent win will give the club some validity.
"Now that we have a proven track record, we want to bring in serious debaters into the fold...with a conference and awards under our belt, we have a lot going for us," said Raghunandhan. "We also plan to work harder to get Senate funding for our proposed trips in the fall. We’re in a much better position now than we were in a year ago, when we barely had a club. Things look bright.”