April 7, 2008

Model U.N. Conference Draws 500 High School Students

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The time was 12:00 a.m. Atlanta was just bombed and Fidel Castro assassinated. You are representing the U.S.S.R. What do you do?
This “midnight crisis” was only one of the many hypothetical diplomatic challenges that faced high school delegates at the 7th Annual Cornell Model United Nations Conference at Cornell this weekend.
Hosted by the Cornell International Affairs Society, the conference drew 500 students from 30 different high schools, including Ithaca High School, Lansing High School, Watkins Glen High School and two international delegations from South Africa and Hong Kong.
Students engaged international affairs through the United Nations’ procedure, participating in debates and discussions on international policy issues and learning to formulate solutions to global concerns. Parti­cipants were assigned to various committees, which included two of the six general assembly committees, two specialized committees and five crisis committees.
The conference opened with keynote speaker Benjamin Ngachoko, president and CEO of the International Institute for Justice and Development. The IIJD is an organization committed to promoting stability and prosperity in poor communities and developing nations worldwide, utilizing institutional reforms and infrastructure development, as well as working with local experts and community-based organizations.
Entirely student-run, the CMUNC brought Cornell undergraduates and high school students together, as Cornell students organized the conference, helped the delegates improve their debate skills and fostered intellectual discussions on international issues.
In its mission, CIAS states that the organization aims to “promote a greater knowledge of international relations for the understanding of the sociopolitical and economic issues that affect the world and its people today” through various means, including the planning, organization and attendance of Model U.N. conferences in the at colleges across the country.
To this end, the CMUNC was established in 2002 as a subset of CIAS in order to extend its stated mission beyond the collegiate community and provide a similar experience for high school students.
Rekha Reddy ’08, secretary-general of the CMUNC and president of Cornell Model U.N., said that she loves interacting with students because “it’s great to watch them be more confident with debating.”
Matt Zimmerman ’08, chair of the A.U., which is not an actual U.N. committee but adapted to the U.N. format, also enjoyed working with the high school delegates.
“It’s really fun to see them think through ideas and sometimes come up with fantastic solutions,” Zimmerman said.
Mark Haber, a sophomore at Clarkstown High School North and a delegate for the A.U., said that his favorite part of the conference was “debating, meeting new people and understanding the world.”
During the CMUNC, students faced mock international crises, which were created by the CMUNC staff, while trying to pass various resolutions. Juliann Merryman, a junior at Wyoming Seminary, said that her favorite part of the conference was trying to handle the various crises in the Security Council. For instance, while discussing Palestinian statehood, the council received a news briefing stating that President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority had just been kidnapped.
“Being on the Security Council is an amazing experience,” Merryman said, “it allows me to participate and be an actual player in the discussion.” Merryman hopes to pursue a career in global diplomacy.
Katie Muenck, a sophomore at Fox Chapel Area High School, represented the USSR at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. After being woken up at midnight for an urgent international crisis, the USSR and U.S. delegations were informed that someone had bombed Atlanta and assassinated Fidel Castro. The delegates were awake debating until 4:00 a.m., when “discussion turned to crazy topics, because at some point we just wanted to get it over with,” Muenck said.
For the high school delegates, the weekend was also a chance to experience a college campus environment.
“It’s a more academic experience,” Reddy said, because the delegates “have time to go to the libraries and do research [for the CMUNC].” According to Reddy, it was an opportunity to “play college for the weekend.”
“It’s gorgeous!” Muenck remarked.