Ben Edwards is a member of the UAA Model UN Secretariat.
UAA has been proud to host the Model United Nations of Alaska since 1993. MUN congregates students from other universities and high schools all over the state for an annual three-day conference. The participants act as delegates for countries, attempting to leverage their country’s interests in a series of resolutions intended to solve some international problem. The simulation is educational, competitive and rewarding. It is also organic since the preparation and management of the conference is conducted by the UAA students who comprise the Secretariat.
MUN has expanded quite a bit over the years, but there is one barrier that it hasn’t burst through yet; UAA does not regularly send delegates to compete in national or international MUN conferences. The UAA Seawolf Debate program competes abroad, and the results speak for themselves. This university earns prestige when Seawolves place in the top tier of national debate championships. Debate alumni go on to accept impressive positions at Cornell University and the program is able to offer $10,000 worth of scholarships to Alaskans. All of these things improve the university’s standing, maximizes the potential of its graduates and give back to the community.
If MUN is given the opportunity to compete abroad, then UAA can double the benefits it receives from Seawolf Debate. Indeed, having two arms that triumph in different areas of academic competition shows that UAA is an institution to be reckoned with. To support this, we first need to recognize how MUN competition works and what that means for UAA. Then we can look at how such a program can be established.
Other universities already have international MUN conferences. Harvard University hosted their 65th conference from Feb. 14 to Feb. 17, with over 3,000 delegates from 80 countries. UAA is not ready to host a conference of that scale, but it should start by sending a delegation to compete in those conferences. A delegation would be a team of UAA students who represent a single country at the conference.
For instance, let’s assume that UAA will represent Sweden when it competes at Harvard. The UAA team will distribute its members into the various committees that comprise of the conference, each with unique topics like refugees or industrial development. The goal would be to get Sweden’s resolutions passed through committees and moved onwards to General Assembly, where they face their final debate and vote. In each of these exercises, the UAA students in the Swedish delegation are verbally arguing their resolutions. They are weaving coalitions and out-maneuvering rivals. When Sweden’s resolutions succeed in the conference, it reflects the hard work of the UAA students who represented the county That, in turn, shines positively on UAA as an academic institution. There are also tangible awards that UAA could win at these conferences such as Best Delegation.
MUN conferences are often held in other countries as well, and UAA should not neglect those. Working with or competing against delegations from different cultures and languages is an experience that students couldn’t get with just MUN Alaska. Regardless of how much research an Alaskan student puts into roleplaying a different country, they are still subconsciously thinking through the cultural context of an American or a Westerner. In the real world, however, a nation’s diplomacy is a mirror of its unique cultural idiosyncrasies. The way humans interact, negotiate and solve problems with each other is through their culture. When UAA delegations learn to work amidst different mindsets and navigate linguistic barriers, they obtain skills that are useful even if they do not intend to work in diplomacy. If the future economy is destined to be more globalized than ever, then having UAA students who are proficient in diverse workplaces would be a splendid outcome.
For UAA MUN to compete abroad, some hurdles would need to be surmounted. The current fiscal situation facing UAA is, to put it mildly, unfavorable for expanding anything. But the Department of Political Science can exercise some creativity in making this happen. Conferences like the one at Harvard offer financial aid to cover fees, transportation, food and accommodation. Local fundraising efforts should be improved as well. The UAA MUN Secretariat should volunteer at the local Rotary Club or the Alaska World Affairs Council, in order to court donations from their internationally-minded members. Corporate donations from BP Alaska and others should be poached as well. The UAA MUN donation link should be shared and popularized, and UAA should see if the program can be included in the Pick. Click. Give. website that connects Alaskan’s PFDs to various causes.
The Department of Political Science should dedicate whatever it can to expanding MUN Alaska in this way. Organizational efforts can be just as meaningful as funding since managing an internationally competitive MUN team poses a hefty logistical challenge in its own right. But our Secretariat already has a tradition of self-organization. We plan the Alaska conferences every year. Doing the same for competing abroad is something we can do if only we are given the chance.