April 15, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 14

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    [model u.n.] by jason smith
    The Model United Nations college conference was hosted and judged by the University's 50-member team. Above, Ying Tao Ho, representing Russia, and Ken Matis (at right), representing Ukraine, debate an issue during the event.

    Model U.N. teaches diplomatic policy

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    Third-year Bryan Dayton removed his rose-colored glasses when he came to college. At a Model United Nations conference, Dayton realized well-intended policy does not guarantee world betterment.

    “We discussed the importance of education and job training policies for migrant populations, but we never talked about their implementation because the U.N. does not have money for it. Also, we had to be sensitive to cultural tensions,” said Dayton, reflecting on the conference discussions.

    Dayton said his loss of naiveté did not take away his enthusiasm for Model United Nations. “In high school, I was awed by the process and did not think about the enforceability of resolutions,” Dayton said. “In college, you learn how to decide a country’s policy because you understand what motivates the policy, you learn how to debate, and you value dialogue and cooperation.”

    Dayton is now president of the University’s Model United Nations team and served as secretary general for the Model United Nations college conference, ChoMUN II, hosted and judged by Chicago’s 50-member team earlier this month.

    Typical Model United Nations conferences include a series of simulated United Nations committees through which delegates practice parliamentary procedure and develop resolutions. Participants know in advance what their committees will discuss––for example, a Security Council review of sanctions. Occasionally, tournaments introduce a crisis, such as a sudden military threat, which causes delegates to shift gears to avert a disaster.

    What sets ChoMUN II apart from other college tournaments is the number of crises contrived by Chicago students. “We’re crisis, all crisis,” said fourth-year Alia Vinson, chair of the Security Council.

    A commitment to plausibility is another distinguishing feature of the Chicago tournament. “We create a probable crisis, such as news of ethnic cleansing in the Congo, which forces delegates to consider likely resolutions based on knowledge of their country,” said Dayton.

    Chicago students spent almost a year preparing background information, providing competitors with historical contexts for multiple committees, countries and crises. During the conference, Chicago also provided a staff of pseudo-historians that delegates called upon to check facts and verify historical policies and beliefs.

    Vinson said the most compelling crisis affects numerous countries, involves big and small players and has larger global implications. “For example, if U.N. peacekeeping forces are attacked in a remote region, delegates must consider, ‘What if this were to happen to our forces elsewhere?’” said Vinson. “Suddenly, delegates have to rely on their wits and experience to reconsider policy.”

    For Model United Nations judges, slick debating alone does not secure a first place. “We look for active participants who react to crises in context, arguing their country’s position realistically and on policy,” said second-year Charles Hoffman, who cochaired the Future Committee with fourth-year Adrienne Kirshner.

    Brandeis University took first place at the conference. Other competing schools included second-place winners Case Western Reserve and Florida State; John Carroll University; Johns Hopkins; Kean College; Kent State and Wells College. With more than 100 competitors, Chicago’s college conference doubled in this, its second year.

    The conference included simulations of the Cold War Chinese and Soviet Union Politburos, who wrestled with territorial claims at the Sino-Soviet border; an African summit on health care and education; a session of the European Court of Justice; and the Security Council debate about the assassination of North Korea’s leader and ensuing conflict. The fictional Future Committee of 2016 held an international summit on creating world stability in light of the collapse of the United Nations and the geographic and military expansion of the European Union.

    Chicago’s team spends an enormous amount of time and energy to compete on the Model United Nations circuit, but they believe the rewards are well worth it. “The most fascinating thing about Model U.N. is the opportunity to view complex issues from a foreign perspective,” said Hoffman. “You realize your own world-view tends to oversimplify issues like civil war.”

    Vinson concurred, noting how much she enjoys working with high-energy people with a passion for current events and politics. “I’ve never been much of a jock, but at heart, I am a competitor,” said Vinson. “And there is nothing that compares to the rush you get from being in a Model U.N. competition.”