By ARDEN IGLEHEART
Last month, students represented Kenya at the Harvard Model United Nations conference and debated issues like ISIS, disarmament, and rights of female prisoners. These students took the course Decision-Making in the United Nations, offered in the fall, and, as a requirement of the class, went to Boston at the end of January and were delegates in the conference. Each got a chance to debate issues and try to pass a resolution as if they were in a real UN conference.
In the seven-week class, they spent the beginning learning about the history of the UN and how it works, and spent the last half learning about Kenya.
“We were learning the history, economics, political structure, just how, if we were the Kenyan government, how we would view topics, said Brianna Jones, a sophomore criminology major. “Because, when we went on the trip, we each had different subject areas and we worked on those. So we would learn how Kenya would view something like immigration, or terrorism.”
The conference occurred over a three-day period. Each student came prepared to speak on two different topics, but committees were formed focusing on only one of the topics. The committees were chosen on the first night, with something Jones called “opinion speed dating,” where students would talk to one another and decide which issues they had strong opinions on and which issues they cared about more. After committees were formed, students debated their topics and attempted to pass a resolution.
“Delegates that attend the conference are assigned specific committees,”said Benjamin White, a senior government and world affairs major, and head delegate for UT. “Usually they have partners, one to speak and one to lobby. In my case for the African Union, I was by myself, which was honestly quite challenging. Other than that, over the course of four days, one would see plenty of debate to decide and implement certain topics. Additionally, drafting working papers and final resolutions to be voted on occurred.”
Josie Bready, a junior history and government and world affairs major, found it difficult to decide, as a less influential country, which big players to side with.
“One thing I think was pretty interesting is the fact that Kenya simultaneously has very strong ties to the UK and US, and strong ties to China and Russia,” Bready said. “So they have to toe that line of who they’re going to go with on certain issues, because obviously the two sides don’t get along on a lot of issues.
Not only did students get a sense of international experience from debating as the UN, but also from meeting students from other countries, as there were international universities attending the conference.
“I met someone from Norway, from China. I think there were dozens of countries that people were actually coming from,” Bready said. “I think that was fascinating, even though they were representing other countries and that’s usually what you talked about. Outside a committee, you could actually talk to them about their actual experiences and it was fascinating to see how different life can be in other parts of the world, shocking, really.”
Jones said that she brought the perspective she gained from talking to international students into her debates during the conference.
“There was a huge global appearance there,” Jones said. “In between your conferences you would sit down and have lunch with somebody. You would just start talking about your conference, and ask ‘how are things in your part of the world?’ and then you would be able to take those conversations into the committee room, and you would build that relationship up.”
The conference, along with talking to students from other countries, helped students think about issues that Americans don’t often have to deal with.
“In America, we don’t have an issue of access to free water,” Jones said. “It’s not universal, but most people can get water to some degree. But if you’re talking to someone who that’s a real issue with, they bring in their own personal opinions and thoughts. It definitely gave a better view that not everything is the same for everybody.”
The two-credit class, which will require attendance at the conference, will be offered to students in the honors program next fall.