Making MUNny Moves

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North Penn High School’s Model United Nations meeting on Thursday, November 19.

TOWAMENCIN-As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the globe, Americans are still banned from traveling to dozens of countries. So, how is it that Canada, Antarctica, and Djibouti, among others, were able to safely convene in Southeastern Pennsylvania this past weekend? Look no further than North Penn High School’s Model United Nations (MUN).

MUN is an organization that gives students a chance to experience what a General Assembly of the United Nations is like. Participants are assigned either a historical figure or country, and then must determine their allies and policy positions in order to form alliances and make resolutions.

“Each person is given a country or a person from history, depending on the debate. If it’s a historical debate, you’re given a person. If you’re a committee, you’re given a country. Let’s say I was Sierra Leone…I have to argue all those positions. So I need to research and know who are my allies. Then we would create a bloc, which is countries who agree for the most part on issues. You’re arguing in committee; you’re not fighting. You work with other people to create a resolution, which is pretty much ‘how you want to solve your problem.’ It’s written down on a piece of paper; kind of like writing a bill in Congress. You say here’s the solution, and here’s what we want to do,” said MUN President Catherine Cavanaugh. 

For the past several years, Model UN has hosted a fall conference at NPHS to give members a chance to show of their skills.

“It started a few years ago, where NPHS would run its own conference during a school day, then we expanded it to take place on the weekend and to include several other schools. The last one we held was on March 7, which was the weekend before COVID. In Model UN, you’re passing notes to a backroom, coming up with a crisis; there are a whole bunch of problems that you need to solve, and you need to be thinking on your feet,” added Cavanaugh.

As with all other event organizers in 2020, the MUN Cabinet had to figure out the most effective way to transfer the typically bustling in-person event to a virtual experience.

 

This year, what we did is we said ‘well, the conference really breaks down into a couple of areas. You have your big committees, and then people go off in blocks during an unmoderated caucus.’ That means people join in smaller rooms and talk to each other. We used breakout rooms for that.”

— Catherine Cavanaugh

“This year, what we did is we said ‘well, the conference really breaks down into a couple of areas. You have your big committees, and then people go off in blocks during an unmoderated caucus.’ That means people join in smaller rooms and talk to each other. We used breakout rooms for that. Kids were able to share Google Docs to write their resolutions. Still with supervision, but with less organization. Typically, in a moderated caucus, which is the big group setting, you’ll be told ‘Ok. Five minutes to talk about a certain topic, each person talks for a minute. Let’s set you up in an order and let’s go.’ It takes a lot of finesse to be able to do that, because if you’re not the person controlling the topic, you’re in for a wild ride,” added Cavanaugh.

Model UN can often seem intimidating to many students due to the level of public speaking that is necessary, but having a conference over Zoom made many students far more comfortable with giving their presentations. 

When you can go into a conference and you’re virtual, and people are just looking at you through a screen, it’s more of the feeling of ‘so what? You’re not here. I’m not staring you down in the flesh.”

— Catherine Cavanaugh

“I think that it was easier for some people to do this, because a lot of kids join in for practice with public speaking, and then they realize that public speaking is really hard and they don’t want everyone looking at them! When you can go into a conference and you’re virtual, and people are just looking at you through a screen, it’s more of the feeling of ‘so what? You’re not here. I’m not staring you down in the flesh.” People even…if they’re self conscious about what’s going on, how they look, or their house, they just turn the camera off. Which, even though we like to have cameras on, there have been students who have thrived without the camera on,” said Cavanaugh. 

Planning for the conference began at the end of the 2019-20 school year, with Cavanaugh and the rest of the Model UN Cabinet (Jojo Dalwadi-Vice President, Liam Carlin-Secretary, Riktik Venkat-Treasurer, and Eric Wang-Historian) crafting debate packets, such as this one about blood diamonds.

Model UN often gets a reputation of being ‘boring’ or ‘stuffy’, but Cavanaugh dismissed that notion, explaining how anyone can have fun with MUN if they go in wanting to get the most out of the experience. 

“Crazy things happen…Canada launched warfare on Antarctica and Djibouti, so kids have fun with it! It’s not stuffy, and it’s not one of those activities where only the top 1% can understand it. If you go in and you want to do it, you can have a lot of fun and make up some crazy things,” she said.

Overall, the Model UN Cabinet was thrilled with the outcome of the virtual conference, and they plan to host another one later this school year.

“I thought moving the conference online went well, and we really put in a lot of work to ensure everything went smoothly. Overall I think it was a resounding success and hope to do another one in the future,” said Model UN Secretary Liam Carlin.

I thought moving the conference online went well, and we really put in a lot of work to ensure everything went smoothly. Overall I think it was a resounding success and hope to do another one in the future.”

— Liam Carlin, Model UN Secretary

“I always find it kind of funny; I thought that MUN was just a space for quirky people who enjoyed international dialogue and politics. In the higher levels, this is where you see people who are incredibly successful going. A lot of kids who get into Ivy League schools and top tier schools say I learned how to talk in front of a group and I learned how to think from MUN. It’s really an activity for anyone,” concluded Cavanaugh.