Model United Nations underwent a stress test for two years to see if our community could endure a pandemic-induced global lockdown. Forced onto our screens, Model UN conferences and teams adopted to the new reality with marked determination to continue. High school and college seniors alike were not ready to abandon their teams and committed to finishing their Model UN careers on a strong note.
Now, as Model UN emerges from COVID, conferences are preparing to return in-person, many for the first time in several years and most without working experience of how conferences used to operate. Our community has an opportunity to reinvigorate the way Model UN operates and reimagine what the activity can provide to organizers and participants.
But before we look to rebuild in-person Model UN, we must look to reboot our teams. Many teachers with whom I’ve spoken over the past year express trepidation that their Model UN programs no longer have anyone that has ever competed at an in-person conference. After more than two years of empty hotel conference rooms, two graduating classes of students have graduated into the next steps of their educational journey.
We must collectively choose as a new academic year begins: will COVID set the Model UN community back ten years, or will we rise to the moment to strengthen the Model UN movement?
Skeptics have told me that at the rate students left Model UN during the pandemic, the community will take close to a decade to recover. Even though Model UN can and does occur with small numbers of students participating, a magic exists at large multi-day conferences with thousands of students from across the country and world converging and colliding. To regain that spirit, we must commit to rebooting our programs to build an even stronger community than before the pandemic. The “Great Restart” has begun, and how your Model UN program responds over the next year will determine whether the large community thrives or stagnates. We owe it to each other to get this right.
“We must collectively choose as a new academic year begins: will we allow COVID to set the Model UN community back ten years?”
The Great Restart may not feel as traumatic for schools with comparatively new programs. While your team may not have competed at major multi-day conferences in the past, take advantage of the new paradigm to push your school administration to let you participate at the highest reaches of Model UN. Develop a plan with your advisor and make a compelling argument that your school should learn at a conference hosted by Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, and the University of Chicago.
For schools with a more established Model UN program but without a storied past, use the Great Restart to reframe how your Model UN program operates. Add structure to your year by mapping out training sessions. Use the plethora of free resources available on the All-American Model UN website to improve your team’s research, speaking, writing, and blocing. Minor improvements throughout the year will result in better results, attracting more students to your team. Set high expectations and plan how your Model UN team can obtain them.
Finally, you may find the following year an uphill climb for schools with established, high-performing Model UN programs. Before COVID, your recruitment, training, and overall administration was likely a well-oiled machine year after year. Now you may find yourself in a position where the students involved with Model UN may have never attended an in-person conference. And students not involved with Model UN have no frame of reference and no peers guiding them to the activity. If this is the case, you must go back to the basics. Do not take attendance and performance for granted. Work to recruit individual students and begin to rebuild your program by drilling specific skills, attending local conferences, and rebuilding your team’s competencies and reputation.
Regardless of what stage you may find your Model UN program, the Great Restart offers us an opportunity to improve the process, culture, and outcomes of participating in Model United Nations. As the adage goes, you cannot fix a plane mid-flight. As the year begins, here is a quick checklist of actions you may consider:
Continued emphasis on diversity and inclusion: Before the pandemic, the Model UN community began openly discussing how the competitive Model UN culture affected women and people of color. We need to continue these discussions and implement definitive steps to ensure that Model UN is a respectful, welcoming, and nurturing experience for all participating.
Setting clear expectations: The main point of conflict in most Model UN programs comes down to having clear, transparent expectations. As the academic year begins, have frank conversations about the expectations for student officers, members, and your team. You can only have success if everyone is aligned.
Road mapping activities to match expectations: Once you set your goals as a team, design your calendar to make those goals obtainable. It is shortsighted to think you can win a delegation award HMUN but not have regular practices. If you set your sights high, your plan should align with your goals.
Focusing on solutions, not rhetoric: Too much of Model UN has become about gimmick resolution acronyms and theatrical speeches in crisis committees. At its heart, Model UN is about developing solutions and building consensus. Let’s refocus and double down on the reality of Model UN and step away from an overemphasis on rhetoric.