At a single Model United Nations conference, participants will witness assassinations, marriages, and even abductions. Just to be prepared, the University’s chapter of Model United Nations (MUN) preps for these occasions, as well as for more traditional political events, in advance.
For instance, on Saturday, Feb. 22, the members of Wesleyan Model United Nations (WesMUN) gathered in 41 Wyllys to debate the Treaty of Versailles. During the debate, each student in the group represented a leader of a country involved with the historic peace settlement.
MUN refers more broadly to the variety of annual conferences for high school and college students that simulate those held by the actual intergovernmental organization. WesMUN, led by Co-Presidents Saahil Bhargava ’16 and Sadichchha Adhikari ’16, not only practices within the student group, but also competes at these conferences with other college MUN groups.
During a MUN conference, each school’s team splits up to participate in various committees, sending members as delegates to tackle predetermined topics. Committees can range from the Union of European Football Associations to the League of Arab States, and from the International Atomic Energy Association to a rehashing of the 1945 Yalta and Potsdam Conferences.
Within a committee, delegates take part in both moderated and unmoderated caucuses. During a moderated caucus, the delegates remain seated while they wait for the chair (a supervisor who leads the committee and controls the parliamentary process) to call on them if they wish to speak. Unmoderated caucuses, on the other hand, give delegates the opportunity to move around and interact with other delegates without interruption.
MUN conferences can take the form of General Assembly, which is modeled after real UN committees, or a crisis simulation. College conferences focus more on crisis simulation, which takes a more creative approach by presenting students with fictional crises to debate.
“Crisis simulation models allow you to interact with people from outside the committees or give orders like strategic assassinations, setting up spy networks, or crafting a new trade treaty with a foreign nation,” Bhargava said.
WesMUN holds an hour-long debate once or twice every week to practice for intercollegiate competitions. As of now, these debates occur Saturdays at 41 Wyllys. According to group members, these practices are crucial in developing and polishing critical thinking and public speaking skills.
“MUN is a great tool to develop your public speaking because you are always working on it,” said Sam Shillet ’17. “In MUN, you choose when you want to speak. I know people who are silent in a committee who just enjoy writing up stuff, but you are going to get to the point where you want to speak.”
Most of WesMUN’s major activities happen off campus. The team has attended conferences held by colleges in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and New Haven. Each event usually takes up the whole weekend, from Thursday or Friday to Sunday.
Shillet, who did MUN in high school and joined WesMUN this year as a freshman, noticed a significant difference between high school and college conferences. After attending the University of Pennsylvania Model United Nations Conference (UPMUNC) as a high school student, he made his college conference debut at the same school last November.
“A high school MUN conference is more competitive, making it a lot more stressful,” Shillet said. “Everyone is trying to get into college. We have these people called ‘gavel hunters,’ who try to impress the chairs by acting very professional, wearing fancy clothing, or having flowers on their suit. This can be very annoying to the students who are there for their interest in international politics rather than the awards. In college, it is more about learning.”
Contrary to popular belief, the topics in MUN are not limited to politics. They often deal with literature and film, including the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series. During UPMUNC this past November, Shillet participated in a crisis committee called “The Godfather.” The chair represented Don Corleone, and each person in the committee took on the role of a different character in the series.
“We discussed mafia plans and fought with other mafias,” Shillet explained. “Crisis directors would come in and shoot someone. A lot of crises would occur at once, making the conference very engaging.”
Even when the conferences deal with real-life issues, MUN can be a fun and creative experience.
“Sometimes, the delegates have portfolio powers, like a power to launch a missile attack to or kidnap another member from another committee,” Adhikari said. “In one of the conferences I went to, we had a British empire and a Native American colony perform a wedding ceremony. There is a lot of fun to be had with the role that you are assigned.”
Adhikari said she wishes that more students were aware of and exposed to WesMUN. When she tells her friends about her leadership in WesMUN, she said she often is asked the question, “Model UN exists at Wesleyan?”
But WesMUN is alive and active. The team is currently preparing for two upcoming conferences in March: the New York University Model United Nations in New York City, and the Five College Model United Nations at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.
The WesMUN leaders plan for the group to have an active future. They hope to join more conferences in the spring and beyond, and they will be holding fundraisers to help get the team to events outside of the New England area
“We have a small group right now, and it is very hard to manage all the bureaucratic or financial issues, but we’re implementing new ideas frequently and I think it is only a matter of time before we are regularly going to four or five conferences a semester and winning awards at those conferences,” Bhargava said.