Model U.N. team takes top honors at Yale

By Kate Shepherd

Rebounding from a down year in 2006-07, the University’s Model United Nations team has returned to their traditional perch atop the simulated diplomacy circuit with a victory at last weekend’s Yale University Model U.N. conference. Seven students took home individual honors, including three who received the top recognition in their respective committees, and the U of C was named best small delegation.

“Watching students transform and blossom as delegates is one of the most rewarding things,” Kathryne Benesh, president of Model UN, said of the club.

In addition to the three “best delegation” honors, two members were given “outstanding” awards, and two won “honorable” designations.

The team also did well at a competition earlier last month at Columbia University, where five participants took home individual recognitions, although the team failed to place overall.

The success comes as a relief to many team members after the club frustratingly failed to win a conference last year. In the 1990s, the team was considered the best in the nation, winning at least one conference in each of eight straight years. In 2004, the team placed first at three conferences.

According to team vice president Amanda Wall, at security council simulations like Yale’s, formal parliamentary procedure gives way to more free-flowing rhetoric.

“It’s much more about generating ideas in small committees. It’s much more fluid, you just go with an idea, instead of waiting to see if everyone agrees with it,” said team Vice President Vinayak Ishwar.

The team practices year-round and attends five or six conferences a year. In the winter or early spring, and hosts their own conference (called “ChoMUN”) in the winter or spring. The team will next see action at the University of Pennsylvania’s conference from November 8-11, and then travel to Boston to compete at Harvard University’s conference in February.

Benesh said Penn and Harvard’s events are international conferences that draw about 2,500 delegates from across the United States and countries such as the Netherlands, Canada, Mexico, Iceland, Venezuela, England, and Ireland.

The U of C’s team will make an international trip of its own later this year, traveling in March to attend the World conference in Mexico.

“I think that Model UN is unique and you can get anything out of it. What I get out of it is from other people on the team. For me, it’s the people that make model UN,” Ishwar said.

Benesh said not all Model UN team members are political science majors and it is important to have a team with a variety of majors because they can add a wide array of skills to the team. The team has its own lecture series in which students speak to the rest of the team about a topic of interest.

Model UN is different from debate because at conferences, team members have to work with students from other teams for four days, unlike at debate tournaments in which students have limited interaction, Benesh said.

“On a personal level it gives students the opportunity to have the confidence to go into a room and speak and debate and negotiate. It’s one of the best activities for students to get involved in to learn life and people skills.”

Correction Appended

This article contained inconsistent accounts of how many team members won individual awards at the Yale conference. Seven participants won individual honors.