Students debate global issues at Model UN
Posted on April 24, 2014 by Christopher Thrall
From March 30 to April 3, 10 Augustana students were in New York taking part in a National Model United Nations competition.
Not all university learning has to take place in a classroom. From March 30 to April 3, 10 Augustana students were in New York taking part in a National Model United Nations competition, debating global issues with students from across North America and the world.
According to Catherine Laskosky, a graduating biology major at Augustana, the Model United Nations course is a fantastic learning experience surprisingly few students seem to know exists. Although the course has no pre-requisite and is open to students without a political science background, the course was almost canceled this year because so few students applied, but seven students from U of A’s main campus joined in on the trip.
“At Augustana we always talk about how there’s so many opportunities at a small campus, but I don’t think all of them are really explained,” said Laskosky, adding that what was special about this opportunity was “you’re learning outside the classroom – the traditional sit at your desk, take down notes – and you’re actually applying it to life experiences.”
Led by political science professor Sandra Rein, the Augustana students learned about the history of the UN. Each participating school was assigned a country and the students split off into committees such as environmental development, chemical warfare and economic development. The students were given three topics to research for their committee and had to write position papers on all three topics from the perspective of the assigned country.
“We kind of all got placed into certain areas that fit our degree,” said Laskosky. “Sandra made the course really applicable to all students.”
Laskosky had taken a number of women’s studies courses, which fit well with her assignment to the committee for the status of women.
“I had to do all my research on Zimbabwe and their present policies and acts on women’s rights and what they believe…it’s a lot of research,” she said.
The competition took place in the enormous Sheraton Hotel, where each commission (consisting of students representing 50 to 100 countries) had its own committee room. The commissions set an agenda based on the topics and each delegate had a chance to speak and represent the views of his or her country. During “informal caucus” the students debated and developed resolutions they hoped to get passed at the end of the conference.
The competition itself was judged on how involved all the delegation members were in sponsoring or signing on to resolutions in their various committees.
“I though my committee would be a little tame, just because we’re all working towards women’s rights, women’s equality, but it does get heated up sometimes because there’s so many countries that really conflict in a lot of ideas,” said Laskosky. “You’re kind of always trying to debate and coerce people into agreeing.”
The debate gets even more heated in committees like the security council, where students are given a mock crisis to deal with during the debate.
“You’re always trying to impose your idea on someone else, although you’re still trying to respect countries’ sovereignty; that’s really paradoxical at times,” said Laskosky. “You’re supposed to stay in character as much as possible. I think sometimes that gets lost.”
Going into the competition, Laskosky said she was somewhat critical of the UN.
“It seemed like it was very slow,” she said, “like there was never any progress. But then when I was there I could see that there is a movement to get to progress…but it’s really hard when you’re trying to incorporate everyone and still have it running smoothly.”
The closing ceremony took place at the real UN buildings, and Laskosky was particularly inspired by a speech from the UN’s deputy secretary general.
“I know that they’re working towards so many issues that are going to better our world,” she said.
Laskosky doesn’t hesitate to recommend the course to any student.
“It was a really great experience. I felt so empowered after it, because I did so many things I didn’t think I could do,” she said.
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