Students Attend Model UN Conference at Northwestern

Russia (far right) and other SPECPOL delegates negotiate Saturday afternoon. 


By Will Foster ’20

This past weekend I attended the Northwestern University Model United Nations conference, along with fellow members of the Payton team. In committees as different as the African Union and the first term George W. Bush cabinet, we debated and bargained with students from as near as downtown Chicago and as far as New York City.

The conference stretched over four days and nights, with six sessions totalling 18 hours. Anyone would agree that it was a bit of a slog at times, but virtually every moment was needed as each committee attempted to pass resolutions and directives responding to both broader disputes such as gun control and more immediate crises such as an invasion.

Before the first session began, all delegates listened to an inspiring speech by Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ravina Shamdasani, who implored young people to prepare to take leadership in the protection of human rights.

My committee was the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (SPECPOL). In the real United Nations, it’s the Fourth Committee of the General Assembly. It was a large committee, with over 90 nations represented, and most sessions were held in an auditorium. I represented Malaysia.

The two topics we had prepared for were the Syrian refugee crisis and the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir. We had written and submitted position papers on each. However, during the initial roll call, it was revealed that neither India nor Pakistan was present! (As it turned out, the two delegates would not be present on any of the remaining days either.) Audible gasps went up from delegates when this registered. We voted to start with the Syria topic. (This topic ended up taking a long time, and we unfortunately never really reached the Kashmir one.)

The first session began with many general speeches from delegates about their nation’s position, predictably filled with buzz phrases like “comprehensive solution.” Every point and motion had to adhere to the strict Model UN parliamentary procedure. When the first unmoderated caucus began, we were able to mill around more informally. Blocs immediately formed, with delegates grouping together to discuss working papers, one of which would hopefully become a resolution by the end of the conference. Over the next two days, a total of nine working papers were introduced, all hand-written because technology was not allowed at the conference.

Model UN somehow manages to be at once painstakingly procedural and frenetic. At times there would be half an hour of hearing many countries say virtually the same thing in speeches — but at the same time, notes were being passed all throughout the room (with the aide of the delegates that had graciously volunteered to be pages) and working papers were being crafted on notebooks in delegates’ laps. It was rather overwhelming, and there was little room for spacing out if you wanted to stay in the loop.

After each working paper was drafted, the committee chairs, who were Northwestern students, would type it up and then project it in the front while they read out the entire paper. One paper was less than a page long, but another was several pages long. In general, the papers were all fairly similar, although each had its unique flair. For example, the bloc led by Hungary used a mathematical equation in its working paper to determine the amount of funding each country should provide to help mitigate the refugee crisis, as a function of each country’s GDP per capita.

Since only one resolution could be passed, delegates began the difficult task of negotiating merges of their working papers. Eventually, they were whittled down to two resolutions, and voting commenced. It was very suspenseful. I supported the resolution Russia and the United States co-sponsored, but somehow a resolution sponsored by a group of smaller nations managed to crush it in the vote. However, the terrific efforts of Russia (Xander Allison from Lyons Township High School) and the United States (Spencer Wells from Glenbrook South High School) were recognized during the awards ceremony, with the Best Delegate and Outstanding Delegate awards, respectively.

This conference was a great learning experience and I hope to return next year.


Payton delegate Ava Schlossman speaks representing Spain in SPECPOL. 

At the Hilton Orrington ballroom on Saturday morning, SPECPOL delegates including the United States (standing, center) debated the details of their working papers. 


Photos by NUMUN Press Corps. 

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