Sarah Lawrence Takes on Diplomacy: Model UN at Harvard

The United Nations (UN) is an enigma to many. What do we honestly know about it? With easy access to New York, we know that the imposing buildings in and around 1st and 44th belong to the UN Headquarters.

But what else are we aware of? How much do we know about the mandate of the UN? How are decisions made? Does the UN run the world?

These are questions that might boggle the casual bystander when they stand in front of the grandiose dome overlooking the East River. But several students of SLC are unfazed by its grandeur and regularly engage the United Nations system through Model United Nations (MUN). MUN clubs exist (from high school to university) to engage with the United Nations system and promote greater public understanding regarding diplomacy. Students are assigned countries to represent and conduct research regarding their respective domestic, economic and foreign policies. SLC’s chapter – founded by Zeynep Goksel and Serena Wuennenburg in 2008 – has represented the Palestinian Authority, China, Lebanon – and most recently Thailand – at various conferences in the region. The participants (also called ‘delegates’) brought their research skills honed at SLC to a global stage.

With an impressive repertoire of experience under their belt, SLC’s MUN club headed to Boston, MA from the 16 – 19th of February to try their hand at one of the largest conferences in the Northeast – Harvard’s National MUN Conference (HNMUN). The delegates deliberate and attempt to find solutions to international issues, from the financial crisis to third generation human rights.

For the Sarah Lawrence delegation, the take away was a chance to participate in an “intellectually and socially engaging” atmosphere, according to Sumudhu Jayasinghe ‘13, Co-chair of MUN. In addition, delegates learnt the value of cooperation and working to “get my coalitions to work and point of view recognized instead of [just] trying to push my country’s agenda”, remarked Shoumik Battarcharya ’15.

As a result of all this, delegates get to hone their skills of persuasion and diplomacy. But why would anyone bother? For Jayasinghe, it’s a matter of global citizenship, “I see the UN as one of those organizations that can do a whole lot of good, while at the same time carries possibility of doing just the opposite.” Having college students at MUN provides a platform for them to meet other like-minded students as well as critically engage with the issues in order to facilitate solutions for the future.

All in all, Harvard MUN was a great experience and the SLC delegation is preparing for their next conference – the National Model United Nations (NYC), hosted at the UN Headquarters. Although the time commitment to the conferences sound daunting, Shivani Mehta ’13 – also a Co-chair of MUN – assures everyone that “with help from your head delegates and all the resources available online, it is possible to be well prepared without it affecting your academics.” Both Mehta and Jayasinghe encourage the wider campus community and students keen on international affairs and diplomacy to join MUN, and to contact them regarding participation in future conferences.

For more information, email modelun@gm.slc.edu. Future conferences being considered include: Columnia MUN, MUN-UPenn, Five College MUN, NMUN-NY, NMUN-DC and HNMUN.

Jing Min Chia – who goes by Jeamme, which is pronounced Jamie, a name her mother created – is a Malaysian who loves to eat, cook, write about food and ponder about everything related to food. She reads the BBC, Nature and The Economist like its no tomorrow because she believes it is theoretically possible – and important – to understand how the world actually works. At Sarah Lawrence College she studies Economics, Anthropology, French, Agriculture, Development, plus a medley of sciences and tries to convince her mother that the combination is a good idea.

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