Like it or not, Model UN conferences are competitions. By awarding individuals who perform the best, outstandingly, and honorably, conferences make themselves, by definition, competitive. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Secretary General Clayton Southerly is correct to point out in his editorial Why Gaveling Isn’t the Point that “Model UN is an educational exercise.” Much in the same way, baseball — to borrow Mr. Southerly’s metaphor — is an athletic exercise that teaches sportsmanship and teamwork. This naive analysis suggests by being a competition, the educational experience is somehow cheapened. I would like to dismantle this argument with two counterpoints.
First we must define the educational benefits of Model UN. While enhancing analytical aptitude and knowledge of international affairs should always be the priority for Model UN as an academic exercise, I argue the equally important educational aspect of debate, negotiation, strategy, and communication would suffer without a competitive element. The knowledge I gained in high school Model UN set me apart during by freshman year at college because I knew far more than my peers in my Introduction to International Relations course; however, knowledge can be wasted without the ability to inspire argumentation and spur conversation.
Second, the competitive nature of Model UN draws the best debaters and this, in turn, increases the quality of conferences and simulations. Without being a competition, I’m not sure I would have attended my second MUN conference in high school. Without being a competition, Model UN turns into a droll academic exercise better left to numb graduate students and professors. Without being a competition, Model UN would not foster the camaraderie that fosters our community.
I am not arguing that competition is the only point to Model United Nations; however, I am tired of being told that competition takes away from the experience. There is nothing wrong with being a competitive team, training to win gavels, and being nationally ranked. The problem exists when the spirit of competition devolves into favoritism, fantasy committees, dirty tactics, plagiarism, and unfair or non-transparent awards practices. Issues do not exist when competition coexists with academic spirit but when people are willing to overlook the academic aspect to win at any cost.
Perhaps Mr. Southerly’s problem is not actually with competitive Model UN — after all, he admits he “displays his gavels on his bookshelf”— but with the unfair practices of conferences and teams. Now that’s a stance I can get behind.
Until that realization, no one should devalue the awards won by students who put in a tremendous amount of time and energy to makes conference, William & Mary’s included, better for everyone. Using Model UN as your competitive outlet should be encouraged, not derided, and you should never feel bad about being rewarded for your performance.