Model United Nations shapes a world for future leaders

Aaron Duke | Staff Writer | Duquesne students Riley Boyle, chair, and Katelyn Waranavage, co-chair of the committee of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), count votes as nations represented by Pittsburgh-area high school students raise their hands to be added to the speaker list during a Model United Nation committee session in the Africa Room on Friday.

Emma Polen | News Writer

Feb. 23, 2023

“The great value of the United Nations is it provides collective forum for those without a great deal of individual power, [who] have collectively something much more when they are together than that when they are apart. You model that now, you remind us of the need to respect small states for the sake of openness.”

These were the opening remarks of Rev. John Sawicki, director for the Center of International Relations at Duquesne, on Friday as he addressed nearly 200 high school participants of Duquesne’s annual fundraising Model United Nations conference.

High schoolers traveled from 16 schools across the Pittsburgh area to represent a nation in one of the eight Model U.N. committees. At the end of each two-hour committee session, participants were expected to have completed a “joint resolution” that served all nations’ best interests.

Committees met in the morning and afternoon for discussions based around international issues.

Among the topics up for debate were the protection of the press and proliferation of surveillance technology in the Committee on Disarmament and International Security (DISEC), illegal drug trade and people smuggling in the International Criminal Police Organization Union (INTERPOL) committee and the rights of indigenous people and poaching in the Social, Cultural, and Humanitarian Issues Committee (SOCHUM).

The Crisis Committee gave students the opportunity to roleplay historic leaders from their countries, offering an additional layer of personalized debate to the committee’s 2023 topic, the 1956 Suez Canal crisis.

For example, Ben Todd, a freshman from Shady Side Academy, represented Soviet Russia’s leader Nikita Khrushchev in the Suez crisis. While current, 21st century relations between the U.S. and Russia are strained, they were on the “same page” during the Suez crisis, Todd said. The nations were in fact working together to convince the last two imperial powers at the time, France and Britain, to compromise with them.

“I’m very excited to verbally duke it out with the British,” Todd said before the conference.

In addition to the “fun” of the role-play, high schoolers also shared how they see Model U.N. affecting their future goals.

“[It’s] a fun opportunity to put on my college resume,” said Brook Emery, a junior from Deer Lakes representing Kenya for the INTERPOL committee.

Emery said her position during the committee discussion would be strict on drug trade, something specific to current events in her representative country of Kenya.

For some students, like Chloe Snyder, a senior from South Fayette High School, Model U.N. provides an outlet for interests in political science, which Snyder would like to major in with International Studies in college. For others, the event is more of a specific interest that bonds them with friends and keeps them up to date on current events.

“I thought this would be a good way to learn about issues that are happening globally, and come together to help come up with more creative solutions that we can hopefully implement in the future,” said Natalie Shaffer, a sophomore at Deer Lakes.

Providing these extracurricular opportunities is important for students, said Mary Quirk, an enrichment coordinator from South Fayette High School.

“They get to network with other students…conference to conference,” Quirk said. “I think one of the biggest values is that they have to look at these [current international] issues from the perspective of another country.”

“[Model U.N.] teaches students how to make executive decisions…and it teaches them current events,” said Alex Wolfe, the Duquesne Model U.N. faculty advisor.

During committee sessions, high schoolers have the opportunity to speak on-topic on behalf of their represented country. Committees were overseen by a college student chair and co-chair who assured the represented nations worked in useful debate.

During the DISEC committee on protection of the press, chaired by Lauren Zelnis and co-chaired by Emily Theroux, the student representing Germany stated safety of journalists is important following the observation of harsh treatment in the country. Brazil cited the recent January capital riot as an example of the need for freedom of the press.

SOCHUM chair, University of Pittsburgh senior political science and French major Katalina Alemany, commended her committee for passing three separate “brilliant resolutions” on the topic of indigenous communities, how they’re marginalized and how to bring awareness to issues of education and health care.

“The fact that these kids, like literally children, came up with solutions to world issues is so impressive.”

Solutions that emerged from the 8 committees were proposed by nations’ representatives and resolved a number of world issues.

The committee for the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) created a resolution in their “Potable Water Rights and Security” session that brings access to clean water across the entire world.

Other committees came up with joint resolutions that would prevent plague, assure the safety of journalists and bolster Asian trade relations.

Commending their actions, chairs and co-chairs of each committee presented high school students with “best delegate” and “outstanding delegate” awards within their committees as well as conference-wide.

The recognition of these awards came from what junior Duquesne education major Ethan Delp, serving Secretary General at Model U.N., described in his opening remarks.

“Your responsibility is much more difficult than just steamrolling debates. It’s committing to long term discourse that finds the middle ground and requires concessions and hardest of all, compromise,” Delp said.

Communication, compromise and persuasion, Delp said, will all follow students into their professional life – whether they go after a career in political science or nursing.