By Heather Terwilliger
Patrick Henry College
Students from Patrick Henry College won two awards while representing Greece, Spain and the United Arab Emirates at the Model United Nations conference in Washington, D.C., November 2-4. Spain’s UN Population Fund committee delegates were awarded the honor of distinguished delegation by their committee peers. Also, the entire delegation representing Greece received an Honorable Mention award.
The conference was the inaugural implementation of the simulated event in the Nation’s Capital. With the exception of a handful of returning participants, the event gave most of the PHC students their first exposure to National Model United Nations (NMUN).
Junior Kelly-Christelle Orsini said she decided to participate because she is “very interested in international affairs at the various levels that they occur, including this top forum for the international community.” She said the conference succeeded in its goal to prepare students for the upcoming week-long conference in New York City.
“I feel much better going into the larger setting having already experienced the NMUN process on a smaller scale,” Orsini said.
The conference also provided a chance for newcomers to acclimate themselves to the NMUN format under the guidance of previous conference attendees. PHC head delegate Kirk Anderson didn’t need the credits, but enjoyed his prior NMUN experience and said he had a lot of fun participating again.
“I enjoyed getting back into the swing of NMUN and putting all my preparation into practice,” he said.
Delegates worked through the weekend to embody the diplomatic dealings of the countries they represented. Pretending they were actually citizens of those countries instead of American college students, they worked together to discuss foreign policy and to draft resolutions for the betterment of the international community.
But is the UN as inspiring as it sounds? Many students said they have heard it spoken of in a very cynical light within conservative circles.
“I think that the UN gets a hard rap because most people don’t understand its purpose,” Anderson said. “It may make decisions we disagree with, but it does not degrade national morality any more than we allow it to.”
Dr. Stephen Baskerville, professor to the NMUN class said “the general idea of the UN is fine; the problem is how the UN performs it in practice.”
Good or bad, however, the UN is an institution both influential and permanent in the world today.
“We have to deal with the world as we find it,” Baskerville said. “Citizens today must work with the institutions that we have and attempt to change them for the better.”
In the case of NMUN, this includes representing countries with whom PHC students disagree on matters of ideology and foreign policy. So why do it?
“[The] fact of the matter is that it is here to stay,” said Eric Johnson concerning the UN, which he does not trust. Johnson feels it has too much potential to override national sovereignty, but thinks “all government students should be well versed in what the UN is and what it stands for, because its influence is only going to expand.”
Anderson agrees. “As students of politics, whether we agree with the UN or not, we can’t just stick our heads in the sand and hope that it disappears,” he said. “We need to understand it and learn what its uses are, whether they be limited or broad.”
As a forum, Anderson said he thinks the UN offers depressed countries the opportunity to appeal to developed nations that they may not otherwise be able to access.
“I have a much better appreciation for what the people are trying to do and having to work with,” said Cherise Ryan, who served as a delegate for the UAE on the committee dealing with human rights.
“I think it sharpens our skills when working with governmental and intergovernmental institutions,” Baskerville said. “It certainly helps to sharpen our realization of the kind of moral dilemmas that anyone faces in a life of public service.”
Cheryl Banks, who oversaw virtually all of the organizational and logistical aspects necessary to participate in the weekend’s events, said it gives students a global perspective and allows for a greater application of their classical education.
“You cannot participate in the NMUN, especially when you’re there, and think of yourself as a student at PHC, or a white, middle-class American,” Banks said. Rather, she said that “all of your knowledge, cultural experience, everything,” comes from being an effective ambassador for your assigned country.
Students aren’t required to agree with the ideology, but the point is that they are not representing themselves, which Banks said can be one of the biggest things to overcome.
Patrick Henry College will be representing the countries of Japan and Luxemburg during the week-long conference in New York City next spring.