Worlds collide

Model United Nations conferences bring options to students on campus and off

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By Rachel Herscovici

Features Editor

Model United Nations can be just as much about Middle-earth as it can be about real international issues.

The Council of Elrond, a Lord of the Rings-themed committee, is one of several that are a part of the upcoming Queen’s Model United Nations Invitational conference (QMUNi).

The conference, which will take place from Nov. 7-10, in its first year, and is hosted by the Queen’s International Affairs Association (QIAA).

The new conference will host 240 delgates from 11 different universities — nine from Canada and two from the US.

Digvijay Mehra, president of QIAA, said that model united nations (MUN) conferences are more about developing skills rather than imitating the UN. He noted that only one QMUNi committee actually exists in real life.

Issues brought up at QMUNi will range from current issues, like drones, to historical issues like the Treaty of Versailles and a Samurai conflict.

“MUN is just a monicker,” Mehra, ArtSci ’14, said. “That’s increasingly the case with other MUN conferences ... and we kind of stick to it because it’s what we rally behind but the UN is no longer central to what we do.” Although this is the first year that QIAA will be hosting a MUN conference, it’s not its first exposure to this type of gathering.

Before this year, QIAA has run the Queen’s Model UN Team, which has travelled to many university conferences in Canada and the US, including those at Cornell, Georgetown, Princeton and McGill. They’ll also be traveling to the World Model UN conference in Belgium in 2014.

For QIAA, it was a natural step to transition from having a MUN team to hosting a conference.

“What we saw, was that every other MUN team across Canada was growing, was doing better and perhaps one of the fastest growing was the Queen’s MUN Team,” Mehra said.

Unofficial university MUN rankings can be found at bestdelegate.com.

The QIAA team went from having no spot on the map in 2010 to cracking the top 50 schools in North America in 2011 and the top 25 in 2012, according to the site. As it stands, Queen’s is currently in the top 30 out of 250-300 programs.

The website has created standards, educational tools and rankings for conferences and teams participating in MUNs around the world. It’s unofficial, but is seen as a central part of serious MUN conferences.

The rankings are based on awards given at conferences for team members with points awarded and weighted differently. The total calculation is also based on weighting for each conference, which is determined through an internal system. With the team rising quickly, QIAA decided the next logical step was to host a conference like the ones they had been attending.

“That’s how Model UN works in the rest of the world,” Mehra said. “You have a team, you travel to other conferences ... and we host our own conferences.”

In total, there are between 60 to 80 Queen’s students that are involved in organizing the conference.

“The most important benefit to students is the international exposure that they get,” Mehra said. “It really gives you a practical hands-on understanding of how decisions are made.”

QMUNi is the latest addition to an already established MUN scene on campus. Queen’s Model United Nations (QMUN), an annual conference for Queen’s students, has been running for 29 years as a separate entity.

The main difference between the two conferences is that QMUNi is just for external competitive delegates and hosted by Queen’s students, while QMUN, run through the AMS, is a platform for Queen’s delegates and other outside delegates in a less competitive environment.

“QMUN is great for that one time experience, trying out MUN,” Mehra said. “QMUNi, you really get that international exposure and the networking from all the other delegates and a more refined, better quality based on the experience the team has in organizing,” he said.

In March, QIAA took a motion to AMS Assembly attempting to remove QMUN from the AMS Policy Manual, which ultimately failed to pass. If it had passed, QIAA would be the only organization running a MUN conference on campus. Mehra said that QIAA argued that they’d be the best authority to host the QMUN conference, as other clubs on campus host conferences in their specific areas.

“What we realized was that we were growing so much as a team but we weren’t able to use the benefits of hosting our conference to further bolster the team and increase the MUN program at Queen’s as a whole, because of the disconnect [between the team and QMUN] and the problems associated with having two organizations running MUN,” he said.

In the end, Mehra said that there were numerous institutional reasons why the two groups couldn’t reconcile.

The first was the “no experience needed” hiring policy at the AMS. Mehra argues that experience is necessary to run a successful MUN conference.

The second reason it didn’t work out, Mehra said, was because when it came down to external delegates, the AMS said that Queen’s students came before delegates from other schools. This difference, they couldn’t reconcile.

“What we realized, at the end of the day, was the inherent contrast between how the AMS operates and between what is required for a successful MUN conference.”

Mehra believes that while experience is required to organize a successful conference, most of the volunteers don’t need experience.

QIAA’s MUN team doesn’t have tryouts and anyone can join with or without experience. Every conference the team travels to has a first-come-first-served system with only the requirement that you attend three to four weekly meetings to understand the concept of an MUN conference before you go. While the two conferences are different, both conferences see the value in the other and still have an active working relationship.

“I think we have different goals as conferences,” Gareth Savage, AMS campus activities commissioner, said. “That was where our conversation ended.”

“We wanted to make sure that we collaborate and coordinate our conferences and make it clear that there’s two MUN conferences that are happening at Queen’s, but they serve different purposes,” he said. “But they’re both complimentary and they show a clear interest in MUN on campus.”

“A lot of other schools see QMUN as a good opportunity to get their more beginner delegates trained,” he said. “I think it’s generally seen as a good practice ground.”

QMUN, which takes place Feb. 6 to 9 this year, is expecting about 175 delegates.

Savage said that 60 per cent of delegates are Queen’s students while the other 40 per cent are external delegates.

Savage also said that given the QMUNi conference will invite many of the external schools QMUN previously hosted, they are prepared for some schools not to come back to the conference this year. To make up for that, the organizing committee has made an effort to invite new schools.

Savage said that because Queen’s sends mainly its own delegates to participate, the conference is not ranked.

The conference is a non-competitive environment focused on the student experience and learning, said Savage.

“It’s true that you don’t need any experience to be a delegate in QMUN or on the organizing committee,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that no experience translates to ‘people don’t know what they’re doing’,” he said.

“Experience is developed between the time you apply and the time you participate.” Students who wish to participate are required to pay a delegate fee from about $70 to 80 which covers the weekend cost of the conference. Sponsorship and bursaries also help subsidize these costs. QMUNi’s delegate fees range from $80-100, depending on the time of registration.

Many students participate in both conferences in some way and there is no divide between the two; both conference organizers made it clear that students don’t have to choose.

Unlike QMUNi, QMUN focuses more on real world issues, using the same procedure as the UN.

Charles Pentland has been teaching a UN course in the political studies department for many years, and says he’s a big fan of MUN conferences.

“It supplements what students may know from classes or reading … with some actual experience of how the negotiating process goes when you’ve got a resolution in front of you, dealing with a crisis.”

Staying true to real-world issues and proper UN form is something that Pentland said is important for a MUN conference.

“I’m not a great fan of moving too far away from the real problems of the world today,” he said. “It’s not as if your imagination is restrained by having to deal with real problems as opposed to made up issues.”

Internationalization is something Pentland supports adamantly.

“It sort of introduces students to some of the realities of the imperfect world that the UN decisions are made [in],” he said.

While many students may not go on to be a member of the UN, students from all backgrounds can appreciate the experience.

“I think students who are planning to go into business or law or government in some form realize that they need to have an awareness of what’s going on in the wider world,” he said.

Lauren Cardinal, ArtSci ’15, is lined up to be a notes runner and communications person for QMUNi’s Spanish Civil War committee this year.

Cardinal discovered her love for international politics when she was an exchange student in Slovakia in high school.

“I saw over in Eastern Europe how it’s not been developed in the same way as it’s been here,” she said.

“Since I’m in international relations it was always my hope to work for the UN, so I love those international institutions,” she said. “I’m also trying to get better at talking in public ... it’s a great experience and it’s a great thing to be a part of.”

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