Feb. 5, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 9

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    Teaching high-school students ways of the world

    By Jennifer Vanasco
    News Office

    A sense of urgency slides through the sixth floor of the Palmer House Hilton Hotel when the Ambassador to the United Nations from North Korea approaches the elevator.

    "Is it secure?" one of her bodyguards asks. A second bodyguard scans the elevator lobby and plants himself in an open, empty elevator. "Secure!" he barks back.

    The ambassador enters the elevator serenely, flanked by her bodyguards, a leather briefcase clutched in one hand.

    A U.N. delegate from Djibouti watches the doors slide close and groans. "Great," he says, loosening his tie, "now we have to wait another 20 minutes for an elevator. Those North Koreans always do this."

    Welcome to the Model United Nations at the University of Chicago (MUNUC), one of the nation's premiere Model UN conferences for high-school students. This year's MUNUC conference took place last weekend, attracting Model UN groups from 90 high schools located across the United States, Mexico and Canada.

    The conference, a complex event organized entirely by students in the College, virtually took over the Palmer House, appropriating rooms for meetings and delegate and staff rooms on all 23 floors of the hotel. There was an 8-page daily newspaper, a computer room with 25 Apple computers, and an Information Services room -- the place where delegates could check the World Wide Web to research their country's position on an issue, consult with knowledgeable staffers (all University undergraduates) or browse through maps and reference books. Information Services also supplied continuous global news updates and a speakers bureau, so delegates could get a sense of how their decisions affected citizens in the "real world."

    The delegates spent most of the weekend in one of 25 conference and caucus rooms and in one of 16 committee meetings, arguing over such weighty issues as what stipulations the World Bank should attach to loans and whether the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe should take action in the anarchy of Albania. The historical security council, which simulated the world as it was in 1956, pondered what to do about the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian Revolution.

    The committee sessions were intense. Though the College students who were chairs of each committee did keep order, there was a constant undercurrent of shuffling papers and whispered deals. The delegates were constantly debating, voting and regrouping. It was clear that, for them, the history of the world was being decided.

    "I had never been here before, so I didn't know what to expect," said Katie Marden, a junior from Lawrence High School in Kansas and a delegate from Peru. "But I'm really enjoying it. You can express your opinion and really make an impact."

    The event requires a tremendous amount of planning and coordination, said Sid Bale, a Chicago senior and Chief Executive Officer of MUNUC. This year, 150 College students were on the conference staff. The students did everything from booking space at the Palmer House to negotiating with the Chicago Tribune for free printing of MUNUC's daily paper to compiling extensive research on all of the issues likely to be discussed by delegates.

    "The 10-member executive committee probably put more than 1,000 hours into MUNUC, and I think it's going really well," Bale said on the Saturday of the conference. "The delegates are all taking it very seriously."

    As there is every year, a simulated crisis occurred at 2 a.m. Sunday, complete with "live" television reports, updates from world leaders and heated debate by delegates. This year's crisis dealt with the rising tensions in the Kashmir region of India, and delegates on the National Security Council worked for eight hours to resolve it.

    "Everyone did a great job," Bale said afterward, "This 10th MUNUC conference was definitely the most successful one yet."