The hotel bustles with students of different ages from 15 to 22. Everyone is dressed up and discussing the latest news flash. In one room, high school students – delegates, as they’ve been named – discuss the most recent development concerning the assassination of the Zimbabwe representative to the Assembly of the African Union. In another room, delegates representing members of the U.S. National Security Council debate resolutions to riots in Iraq and other modern-day crises. Then, all of a sudden, the U.S. National Security Council gets a news brief – Iranians have accused the U.S. government of involvement in shootings along the Iraq-Iran border and the Iran government demands the U.S. be held accountable. Delegates must now respond in due time, pushing aside any other matters that were previously being discussed. It’s as if CNN journalist Wolf Blitzer echoes in the back of your head, “You’re in the situation room” – except he isn’t around. [veto]
MSU’s Model United Nations (MSUMUN) is an on-campus group that hosts a yearly conference in Lansing. The conference has been an annual event for at least eight years. “It’s definitely the largest [MUN] conference in the state,” said Allie Carter, a sophomore in comparative cultures and politics and assistant chair for the African Union Committee of MSUMUN. The conference is a three-day event that “replicates on a very small level the importance of international bodies,” said Alex Plum, a senior in James Madison College and this year’s Secretary-General of MSUMUN. Plum said the MSUMUN conference has become an effective way for its members and high school students attending the conference (known as delegates) to perfect their public speaking abilities, research interests and studies abroad in general. “[We try to] perfect ourselves as members of an international community and raise our international awareness,” Plum said.
[boss]While most students in MSUMUN are James Madison College students, the group is open to anyone with an interest in global affairs. Plum, for instance, plans on going into the Peace Corps upon graduating this May. Kim Bos, a junior in James Madison College and the new Secretary-General for the 2008-2009 MSUMUN, has also considered the Peace Corps or working for the program Teach for America. Carter would like to be a member of some kind of international body of government upon her graduation. Other members, like James Madison junior Alex Hill, are already taking action on their global interests beyond MSUMUN; Hill is the founder of MSU’s non-profit organization, S.C.O.U.T.B.A.N.A.N.A., which raises money to support a better health care system in Uganda.
“I guess [MSUMUN] is our way of banishing ignorance,” Bos said. “Seeing [delegates] debate global issues shows us that people do still care [about the rest of the world].” Bos said MSUMUN tries to pick topics that are “active” relative topics going on in the world. This includes things like HIV/AIDS, the recent assassination of Abu Risha (who opposed Al-Qaeda in the Middle East) and even the war in Iraq. “It’s important to bring high school students to the conference to learn about things like the U.N., especially since some schools around here don’t always have that opportunity,” social relations and policy sophomore Jacquie Conger said. [mun12]
Plum said anyone can apply to be any type of leader at MSUMUN. However, as with most things, the more important the position, the more qualifications one is expected to have. “It really varies by position,” Plum said. “Someone that’s done MUN before usually gets the chair of their committee or crisis committee. People with less experience are usually hired as staff or assistant chairs,” he said. In hiring people, academic interests are also considered. “I applied for an assistant chair or a chair position and [MSUMUN] picked [my position] based off my academic interests,” Boss said.
Once everyone is hired, MSUMUN begins preparing for the conference at full-force. “By mid-October we open registration for the conference up to the high schools,” Plum said. Meanwhile, the newly hired chairpersons set up the structure of their committee. “Once you’re hired, you pick your assistant chairs,” said Krystle Forbes, a sophomore in James Madison and the chair of the Special Political and Decolonization Committee. “Then you pick the topics you want to cover at the conference and create the background guide that the high schools use to prepare for the conference,” she said. The guide for each committee contains rules for the how the committee will run as well as the topics being discussed. Forbes said she had to have all of these requirements done by November.
Delegates can be a part of three different committees, including general assemblies, specialized agencies or crisis, or the International Press Corps. General Assemblies are groups that discuss and debate issues pertaining to topics such as, but not limited to, economics, finance, humanitarian aid and decolonization. Specialized agencies simulate the global role of groups like UNICEF, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Human Rights Council. Delegates that choose to be a part of the crisis committee simulate the African Union (AU), United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and United States National Security Council (USNSC). The International Press Corps is just that – the volunteer-based organization that helps underdeveloped countries establish education and health care systems, among other things. [veto3]
Plum said the conference usually attracts 500 or more delegates – students from various high schools across Michigan and other states like Ohio and Wisconsin. Students attending the MSUMUN conference are all members of a Model United Nations team at their respective high schools. “It’s an opportunity for high school students to put into practice what they’ve been learning and practicing at their own schools,” Plum said.
“Some of my friends do MSUMUN, and I just thought it would be good experience toward future goals,” said Matt Kuhn, a junior at Mattawan High School in Michigan. This was Kuhn’s first time at MSUMUN, but he agreed the conference applied to interests he’d like to pursue in college, particularly at MSU.
[hill]Some members of the MSUMUN group also participated in the conference when they were in high school. Many agreed that doing the conference had somewhat of an impact on their decision to come to MSU. “A lot of kids who run MSUMUN are in James Madison, which was a school I wanted to go to,” international relations freshman Courtney Swisher said. Mike Jones, a senior in political theory and constitutional democracy, agreed. “I liked that there was a competitive team,” Jones said.
In addition to debating and collaborating ideas pertaining to current affairs, MSUMUN attendees are invited to join in social activities – like a delegate dance on their last night – and listen to a guest speaker who is active in the fields they may one day pursue. This year, MSUMUN’s sponsored speaker was Dr. Kent Hill, an assistant administrator of the Global Health Bureau of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID helps in efforts like HIV/AIDS prevention, avian influenza and other infectious diseases like malaria or tuberculosis that are taking over third-world countries. Dr. Hill said he hoped to highlight the array of opportunities to do good and be a part of international development in his speech to MSUMUN delegates. “You can’t understand where the U.S. is right now if you don’t know where it stands internationally,” he said. “[The U.S.] has an obligation to consider what ways we could help alleviate suffering [in the third world],” Dr. Hill said. While Dr. Hill’s main priority is working with USAID for right now, he said he enjoys making time to speak to the next generation of leaders at conferences like MSUMUN. [mun13]
“[MSUMUN] really forces you to keep up with current events,” Carter said. So while Wolf Blitzer may not be putting these students in the situation room any time soon, they will have had some experience to prepare for it. And even if Wolf Blitzer does not show up, members of MSUMUN are using their experiences to help establish something that has never been done before. “The knowledge that we get [through MSUMUN] is enough of an experience that we all learn something,” Plum said.