Model U.N. team top for sixth year
For the sixth consecutive year, the University's Model United Nations (MUN) team was awarded Best Delegation at the Harvard National Model United Nations conference, an achievement unprecedented in Model United Nations competition.
The Harvard National Model United Nations conference is the largest, and, according to MUN president and fourth-year College student Glenn Waldorf, the most prestigious conference on the North American circuit. More than 130 institutions and 2,000 students attended last month's conference.
In Model United Nations competition, students debate current international political issues. Schools represent one or more countries at a conference, with team members assigned to advocate specific positions within the context of committee discussions. Prizes are awarded to individuals for excellence in committee advocacy, and the institution with the best overall record is then named Best Delegation.
This year at the Harvard meet, Chicago represented China and Bosnia. The team representing China won a total of seven awards, while the team representing Bosnia earned four. Chicago students won delegate honors in 11 of the 15 committees in the conference, leading to a shared award of Best Delegation with Baylor University.
"We enjoy playing challenging and diverse countries with unusual world views and grand strategies," Waldorf said. "This interest and effort contributes to the conferences we attend and forces our team to improve its abilities. A few years ago, we were the first school to represent post-reunification Germany and the first to represent recent United Nations member Kazakhstan. Our team portrayed the United States just one day after the Gulf War ended.
"Another thing we like to do is compete against ourselves," Waldorf continued. "We've simultaneously portrayed Israel and Syria and North and South Korea, which we think strengthens the conferences and sharpens our skills. We're the only team whose delegations debate each other, and since we've done so well over the years, we're now in a position to choose to be whoever we want."
Waldorf attributes the success of the Chicago team to strong students and solid training. Every autumn, fliers about the organization are given to new students, and applications are distributed at the first meeting of the year. All members -- even veterans of the team -- are asked to participate in debate practice sessions so that team officers can select the best delegates to represent a particular country or attend a specific conference. "We look for enthusiasm, public-speaking skills, experience, background and knowledge of current events," Waldorf said. "About half of the people participated in Model U.N. in high school, but that's not a prerequisite."
The MUN team meets once a week during autumn and winter quarters, the time of year when the major Model United Nations conferences are held. In addition to conducting simulations to train students in parliamentary procedure and public speaking, the leaders of the group review standard committee rules and strategies and then practice using them in the meetings.
"We spend a lot of time refining our technique and reviewing the issues," Waldorf said. "We discuss general national policies. We teach our delegates how to research their country's position on the issue of debate in their committee and how to discover more about that issue itself. Delegates are coached on strategy and speaking style. They are taught how to craft one-page position papers, which are then critiqued extensively by the team officers and revised before they are submitted to the school running a conference."
The University team attends four competitions each year -- the Georgetown, Penn and Harvard conferences, as well as the American Model United Nations competition in Chicago. Waldorf said that the team is often invited to attend other meets, including international conferences, but the logistics tend to be too complicated. "We select tournaments based on four factors -- the quality of the conference, ease of travel, the number of class days missed and the relative costs of attending," Waldorf said. "We took 55 different students to competitions this year. We do as much as our budget will allow."
Chicago's Model U.N. team, founded in the 1987-88 academic year, follows guidelines set by the United Nations Association of the United States, but the chapter is run entirely by students on campus. A member of the Coalition of Academic Teams, an umbrella organization that includes the Chess, College Bowl, Debate and Speech teams, MUN is one of the University's largest Registered Student Organizations, with more than 60 members. Most of the participants concentrate in the social sciences, particularly political science, but Waldorf said that students studying physics, philosophy, Near Eastern languages and biochemistry are also on the team.
"The skills we cultivate are applicable in every area of study," Waldorf said. "You learn to ask good questions, you learn that understanding precedes criticism. These are tenets that this university lives by, which is one reason we have such a good Model U.N. team. I hate to give all the credit to Western Civ. and the Common Core, but the fundamental approaches we learn as part of the U of C curriculum help us in every arena, and they will for the rest of our lives.
"Listening and debating, researching, finding resolutions -- these are really important interpersonal skills," Waldorf continued. "They help you assess a situation quickly and accurately, and eventually these skills become instinct. We can size up a room and persuade people. Besides all that, it's fun."
-- Carmen Marti