Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Double Edged Sword: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of ASF MUN 2013

The ASF MUN 2013 Conference was a success.... sort of. Of course, just like every large event involving the entire upper-school body will have its ups and downs.  As usual, there will always be those who undercut the very concept of MUN, and others will defend it passionately; I usually identify the latter as idealists, or people belonging to the MUN Class itself. While I have usually been part of the brigade that thinks that MUN has always done a brilliant job of trivializing the world’s issues, this year, I would like to write some constructive criticism about the conference.

This year, I was part of the press committee, which allowed for certain many liberties I had never had during MUN before. Firstly, I was free to wander the hallways and in and out of committees in order to find some story or another to write about. I ended up accusing members of the U.S. Cabinet of being addicted to a fictitious drug that I came up with by my own accord, but that’s another story. What this liberty to wander did grant me, however, was the ability to see a lot of what happens behind the scenes and outside of the committees in session. Secondly, press allowed me to talk to lots of people (including the opportunity to address entire committees in the persona of Bill O'Reilly) and discover the varying opinions on MUN. It separates, rather generally, into the people who like it, don’t like, and those who don’t care. A particular distinction must be made between those who do not like it and those who do not care because the people who do not like the concept of MUN wouldn't really have anything to gripe about if it did not exist. Those who don't care seem to take the two days off as a sort of pseudo vacation from everyday school life. What this all comes down to, is the people who like it arguing against the people who don’t like it, each side thoroughly convinced that they are standing up for the people who don’t really care.

Even so, the successes of the ASF MUN 2013 were no small feat. For starters, the new and more focused elite committees were privy to a high level of intellectual content and debate. As a reporter who was rather sick of loud and obnoxious delegates trying to be funny in other committees, these cabinets were a nice place to hang out and interesting to listen to how delegates stepped into their roles and supported their positions with legitimate evidence and data. Also, providing water to the delegates, particularly in the 3rd floor classrooms/ovens, was a brilliant idea. The topics of debate this year were also rather entertaining in some of the committees, while there was of course the time tested and  cliché debates about the legalization of marijuana, there were also topics about using artificial intelligence, space exploration, and how the world bank could fund education in turbulent regions such as Pakistan; facing corruption, terrorist cells, and a general distrust of western institutions. These topics were interesting to listen to when delegates decided to allocate their speech time to the actual topic instead of making fictitious alliances, reinstating the USSR, declaring nuclear war, repeating the same blanket statement that the past three speakers had said, or simply agreeing with everything that had been mentioned and urging a resolution to be passed (by someone else... of course).Furthermore, the use of advisory and homeroom time for MUN preparation was an entertaining new approach to getting people ready to the conference although it did lead to rather hysterical posters with grammar faults that make one really question the academic excellence of the school and it’s students’ ability to communicate coherent ideas. Finally, the new changes in how best delegates were elected by including observing teachers in the process, eliminated suspicions of favoritism and nepotism in the granting of these awards and also added some legitimacy to the entire process.

Unfortunately, when you make 700 students sit in really hot rooms, for sixteen hours of ostensible debate, not everything can really go according to plan. What’s worse is that the ASF MUN Class has to fight against the precedent held at ASF that MUN is a time to screw off and attempt to set new personal records for how many continuous hours one can remain mind numbingly bored; here is where the inherent paradox of MUN arises. On one hand we want to spread awareness about world issues; poverty, water shortages, education, and of course human rights. On the other, we plan to achieve this by forcing people to participate in conferences that deal with these issues. This then takes people who don’t care about MUN, and puts them all into the same room and then expects serious debate about these critical issues. While some people do take these topics seriously, what mostly ends up happening is that Human Rights get trivialized when the delegate of Italy stands up and says “I agree with the previous delegate” every time they stand at the podium. Avoiding these scenarios in committees like the General Assembly and other ‘non-elite’ committees has been a challenge not yet met by the MUN class. Personally, I feel like the MUN class and those participating would get way more out of the MUN conference with smaller, more specialized committees filled with people who actually want to be there. Either that, or MUN needs to be made more accessible at the risk of (further) undercutting the value of some of the issues.

Finally, the touchiest of all the issues; especially for the MUN Press team. This is of course, regarding the two articles that were ‘censored’ from the MUN Paper. One about the mediocre enforcement of the dress code and the other about the “Joys of MUN”. Without mentioning the irony of an activity that exists to promote critical thinking responding to opinions and free press with censorship, the MUN Class did make somewhat of a faux-pas in their reaction to the articles. I never read the article about the enforcement of the dress code, but the point here is that even if the article pointed out a hitch in the MUN conference and gave it ‘bad face,’ the MUN Class shouldn’t simply censor the issue and pretend it didn’t happen. The issue should be presented, discussed, and taken in stride to improve future conferences. The real issue however comes with the censorship of the article written by one of my fellow writers during the conference and closest friends during everyday life. While I do realize that I am target to certain bias in her favor, I do think that her article (featured below for those of you who have not read it) dealing with precisely the issue of how MUN trivializes issues and is essentially forced upon people who truly have a natural inclination to apathy did make her point. Her mistake, I feel, is that she mischaracterized some of the issues in an attempt to write a funny and entertaining article. While it was an honorable goal to send an important message through humor, much like the MUN conference, she lost some of the meaning and incited anger from the MUN class. Quite the opposite of what she wanted to do. While I do agree with the MUN class that phrases like MUN is imposed upon Upper School students like child labor is imposed on Indonesian orphans” are a little much, I think that she does make a point about the “Hungover freshman poking,” and “Paris Fashion Week.” As well as the many committees that devolved into North Korea declaring nuclear war on the world, or in one committee; building a death star. The point here is that while my friend may have over-generalized some of the faults in MUN, she did also make valid points. I Understand why the MUN class is upset, it’s not fun to get criticism about something you worked so hard on. However, if they look past the generalizations, there is some truth to the faults being mentioned, and it is these faults that are hidden and never improved on when the article is censored, and no discussion occurs in amongst the MUN class, or in the student body. Leaving the valid points out in the cold and unadressed, simply labeled and offensive and irrelevant.

All in all, I did enjoy this year’s conference significantly more than the past years, and I saw changes that I would like to see continued like using advisory time for preparation, giving water bottles to the committee, and the socratic reflection at the end of the seminar. At the same time, I think that ignoring, overreacting, and censoring the observations of people not in the MUN class is a huge mistake if we plan on making the MUN conference more enjoyable every year. I experienced first hand all the work that went into running the conference and I think that the potential for an MUN that more people can enjoy is definitely present, but we have to want it, not ignore it.

The Joys of MUN
by: Camila de la Parra

“The delegate of Yemen believes that human trafficking is wrong” said the delegate of Yemen, a little freshman with the tail between his legs. “I yield my time to the chair.” He said as he stepped away from the podium. 
“The delegate of No-Norway believes that human trafficking is wrong” said the delegate of Norway, with a nervous stutter. As she stumbled on her heels to return to her hiding space behind the country’s sign, the Moderator yelled: “delegate, you did not yield your time! We will now entertain comments, please return to the podium” followed by a giant gulp of Starbucks. “Delegate of Algeria, you’ve been recognized.”
- “The delegate of Algeria agrees with the delegates of Yemen and Norway. ” and so it went on at the Model United Nations Conference of 2013 at the American School Foundation. Two days of debates, if we can even call it like that, in which food can buy success, Starbucks can assure safety, “hungover freshman poking” is the preferred sport and you appreciate your smartphone and Facebook more than ever before. With the benefit of missing two days of school, MUN is imposed upon Upper School students like child labor is imposed on Indonesian orphans, debates are as heated as the quesadillas from the cafeteria and teachers are as thrilled as Mr.Lemmon is about skipping classes.
The general agenda for the majority of the committees are as follows: agree with all the countries to massacre any possibility of debate, have North Korea declare nuclear war on someone, have a Muslim country defend female genitalia mutilation followed by a couple of racist comments, an unmoderated caucus, love messages from the delegate of Mexico to the delegate of Zimbabwe, the moderator forcing them to dance tango, sending a delegate to the dungeon for coming to the conference in underwear, denying a couple of outstanding resolutions and passing the one that states that creating a reality gardening show will solve all problems, applauding while it’s out of order and eating chips throughout all of the third session.
This conference is also known as the most intimidating experience for freshmen, who need to stand on a podium and state their country’s position in front of all the seniors. Or also, as the day that debaters get to show off and crush everybody. MUN is among the top three days with more speeches and it is by far the most similar to Paris Fashion Week.
However, even if you can smell apathy in the hallways and hear it in the committees, I’m sure somebody learned something out of the conference. Maybe they even discovered the existence of a new country, not to mention the possibility of someone realizing there are other problems in the world apart from having a two story birthday cake instead of a four story one.
As this year’s MUN is coming to an end, everybody is looking forward to the long weekend and is incredibly grateful for passing the breathalyzer at the school entrance.

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