"That is not going to work with France"
by joey |
Fifteen students interrogated the representative from Ukraine. Eighth graders hustled notes from room to room, past whispered hallway conversations like "That is not going to work with France." The representative from New Zealand proved remarkably eloquent, considering he was dressed like Gandalf.
Then, a text message rocketed out to committee leaders-Syria had just weaponized Ebola. This was not the average day in Rasmuson Hall.
33 years of Model UN
On Feb. 26-28, UAA hosted 250 students from across the state at the 33rd annual Model UN conference. Each year, the conference grows a little more, as high school students from Juneau to Fairbanks come to campus to discuss the world's pressing issues in a mock United Nations. Each student receives a country to research and they arrive ready to work with their allies, question their enemies and defend their adopted nation's people and policies-whether they're assigned the USA or North Korea. Things, of course, get interesting.
The conference began on a Thursday afternoon with opening ceremonies and continued Friday with committee sessions covering health, the environment, refugees, development and atomic energy. Everyone reconvened in the Wendy Williamson on Saturday to present committee resolutions and place a massive vote on whether to enact or reject each initiative.
"It's exhilarating. We're representing these countries and actually making solutions to these substantial world problems," said Grant Ackerman-a senior from West Valley High School in Fairbanks. "It's very rewarding and feels amazing to put forward the views of a country."
Arguing with friends to earn course credit
Each spring, the political science department offers an upper-level seven-week course to plan the annual mid-semester conference. Enrolled students take on dual responsibilities-they plan the 3-day conference and participate as active members and moderators.
Students can enroll twice in the three-credit course while at UAA. If they're really hooked, they keep participating as political science interns. The diehard fans usually end up on Secretariat-the leadership body for Model UN, readily identified at the conference by their snappy blue jackets.
UAA senior Viktoria Trotta-Mirigliano represented Chad on the World Health Organization committee at this year's conference. Now in her last semester, she wished she'd found Model UN a little bit sooner.
"It's really informational," she said of the class. "It's also just a lot of fun. I'm kind of quiet and shy in classes-I've been at UAA five years and I think I made more friends in this class than all the other years combined. You just don't have a choice-in other classes you can sit and get away with not opening your mouth at all, and so I take that. But in this class you can't do that."
Model UN can get a little fiery-students may not be enemies, but their countries often are. "It's the only class I've ever taken where you actually make friends in the class. You just get so close with the people in there," Viktoria noted.
UAA students only represented five of the 47 nations at this year's conference, while high school students filled out the other delegations. Sterling Stasak of Soldotna's River City Academy explained how students prepare for the annual conference. "Watching the news helps," he said. "You have to have a little bit of background on what's going on around the world. When you get your country, you obviously have to study your allies and your enemies, because at Model UN you're trying to represent your country to the best of your ability."
Despite all his research, he couldn't have prepared for everything. Each year, the Secretariat throws a last-minute crisis at the unsuspecting students. This year, an alert went out that Syria had reportedly obtained and aimed Ebola-tainted rockets at their enemies. Sterling-one of two students representing Syria-suddenly found himself with a lot to answer for.
The main event at each Model UN is the 15-member peacekeeping Security Council, housing five permanent members-China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA-and 10 rotating nations. It's like varsity Model UN, and things get heated.
This year the Security Council originally debated whether or not to implement blockades on Syria, but the stakes kept raising as the hardball conversation rocked and rolled.
There's a level of decorum in Model UN committees-countries speak one at a time, raise signs to interrupt or object, etc.-but occasionally they call a caucus, where everyone convenes to hash out a plan before the gavel drops five minutes later. "We're this far from each other, almost yelling, threatening vetoes left and right," explained Grant Ackerman, representing the UK. "It definitely adds some energy and intensity."
"You learn a lot about people," noted Capra Edwards-Smith of River City Academy, representing Venezuela on the Security Council. "Right now, Russia is using staying out of Ukraine as a massive bargaining chip to maintain control over the entire setup."
Likewise, China offered to deescalate aggressions in the South China Sea if their policies were approved. "It's becoming very high stakes for a resolution that originally the UK, USA and France pledged to veto, and now its becoming much more difficult to do that considering the repercussions," Grant added. And that's exactly what Model UN is all about.
In addition to hammering out the world's problems, Model UN students take home a toolkit of life skills.
"It's a lot of fun, but the main point of this is to negotiate and compromise," explained Ion Oboroceanu, a West Valley senior representing Moldova.
Likewise, teamwork is a main focus of the conference. "We really have to rely on our own discretion to meet up separately and research certain topics and keep each other in the loop regarding our nation," added senior Kellie Chong of West Valley.
"The most valuable thing about this conference is you get to learn about your government," added Sterling. "I've seen studies and interviews [about how] a lot of our generation doesn't know anything about our government ... That's really sad. So to come here, get educated and have people educate other people-it's just a chain reaction that's really good for our society."
After 33 years, UAA's conference is an effective machine. Eighth graders from Romig serve as pages-shuttling notes between delegates and committees-and hopefully join Model UN next year at West. High school students get to experience UAA for a weekend, and often return to the political science department when they attend UAA. UAA students get the best benefit, though-for the past three years, several Seawolves traveled to the real deal United Nations in New York City with assistant professor Dalee Dorough to see what can happen after college.
For more information, check out Model UN's Facebook page.
Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement