Every year students from Whittier College participate in Model United Nations of the Far West (MUNFW). What is different this year however, is that Whittier College is actually hosting the conference. This means that all the committees and discussions will actually be overseen and regulated by our students.
For those who are not familiar, MUNFW is a simulation of the actual United Nations (U.N.) made up of various committees such as the General Assembly, Security Council, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, etc. A one-credit class titled MUNFW held by Associate Professor of Political Science Michael McBride prepares Whittier students for the conference. Delegates act as representatives of different countries from around the world and hold serious debates and discussions on major international political issues. The objective is to try to reach consensus and create resolutions on some of these issues. This provides them with hands-on experience in a formal setting.
Normally students have to hold certain positions in committees and act as representatives of various countries. This has not changed for our delegation this year as Whittier is still going to represent Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, Sri Lanka, the United Republic of Tanzania and Yemen. Delegates research their respective countries and ensure that they portray them at the conference as accurately as possible and act as their real counterparts would.
Another difference in this year’s conference is that several alumni are also participating. Caroline Cox (2010), Director of International Programs Katie Hunter (2005) and Andrea Barber (1999) who played Kimmy on the 80’s TV show Full House are all part of this year’s delegation. “The alumni who are participating have all been a part of MUNFW and in several cases served as interns at the U.N., so they bring some special expertise to the conference,” McBride said. “It is not unusual to have alumni at MUNFW and in fact at one conference several years ago all the chairs and leaders of the Secretariat were alumni.”
Participants claim that there is a lot of experience to be gained from such a simulation. Students learn to interact with one another in a professional atmosphere where they act real politicians from different nations. Junior James Chowdry has been participating in MUNFW for three years now and he finds the experience enjoyable.
“I have always been a fan of MUNFW in the respect that students learn how to conduct themselves in a professional manner whilst debating world politics,” Chowdry said. “In my opinion this particular skill set places MUNFW delegates above their peers. It is a great skill set to have in the professional world.”
Senior Ian Costello has four years experience with MUNFW and this year he is the Under-Secretary-General, a position second only to the Secretary-General. Costello has to oversee the smooth running of the entire conference, a fairly large responsibility. Like Chowdry, he holds that the conference teaches students some important skills. “It teaches you diplomacy and negotiation—being able to thoughtfully and persuasively communicate,” Costello said. He is also proud that even though Whittier is one of the smallest schools at the conference it always sends one of the largest delegations.
Other students however, have had to focus more on the specific rules and regulations of the U.N. because they have taken positions as committee chairs. Junior Jessica Underwood is the Substantive Chair for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in this year’s conference. “I had to learn a lot more about the rules and the way to run the conference,” Underwood said. “This year it will be a very different experience to be a chair rather than a delegate because the type of involvement is different. Instead of bringing opinions and ideas for resolutions to the table, as chairs we will be facilitating that process and helping other students to come to their own consensus.”
According to Whittier representatives, they had to put a lot more time and effort into preparing for this year’s conference. Senior Melissa Samarin is Head Chair of the IOM and she acknowledges that this year’s conference has been somewhat harder than previous years.
“This year Model U.N. is much more work-intensive because we are chairing the conference and there has been a lot more emphasis on the little details of MUNFW so that we make sure everything goes smoothly,” Samarin said.
Caroline Cox, one of the alumni participants, is one of the more experienced delegates. This is her ninth year participating in MUNFW as she has been participating since high school. This year she is Secretary-General of the conference. “This is the most important position in the U.N.,” said McBride. Her responsibilities include choosing committee chairs, writing and editing issue book papers, coordinating training for the chairs, keeping in contact with delegations from other schools and choosing the agenda for this year’s conference.
Cox enjoys participating in MUN FWfor various reasons. “Seeing students work so diligently and passionately really inspires me and makes me happy,” Cox said. “I’ve met some great people through all of my MUNFW experiences and without the conferences I would have never had that opportunity.” Cox would like to pursue a career with the U.N. in the future.
Even though MUNFW is very similar to the real U.N. in that it imitates the U.N. with all the rules, proceedings and committees, sometimes there are a few discrepancies, mainly because participants do not accurately represent their countries. “The only place that things can get a bit muddled is how students represent their countries,” Samarin said. “At the U.N. in New York, representatives are actually speaking on behalf of their countries.” Other delegates agree with this point of view.
This year’s conference theme is “People on the Move: Urbanization, Migration, and Forced Displacement.” Delegates will be debating on topics such as human trafficking, statelessness, refugees and internally displaced persons. An important aspect is that students actually take these issues seriously.
“I think this year’s theme is particularly important,” Cox said. “Much of the world’s population now lives in an urban area and we must address the consequences that being unprepared brings. How do we ensure that all people have access to water, shelter, and food? Are there more innovative ways we can encourage peace and cooperation? How is climate change affecting the world’s poorest? These are just a few of the questions delegates will be discussing at the conference and I cannot wait to see what they come up with as possible and viable solutions.”