Hundreds of High School Students Learn Diplomacy at Yeshiva University Model UN
More than 600 high school students from around the world gathered in Stamford, Connecticut, from February 5-7 for the 22nd Annual Yeshiva University Model UN competition, or YUNMUN. The annual competition, sponsored by the YU Office of Admissions, featured a schedule packed with committee sessions, keynote speakers and abundant networking opportunities.
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Students came from 45 schools, spanning 3 continents, 4 countries and 12 states, with delegations from South Africa, Brazil and Canada. “It was really amazing, coming from South Africa, and it was such an eye-opening experience,” said Ariella Blumenthal from the Yeshiva College of South Africa.
Preparation for the competition starts months in advance and requires a collaboration between YU students who chair the secretariat and the YU Office of Admissions. Topics must be prepared for the students, the committees must be chosen and the hotel prepared for the convergence of high school students, their staff, and the staff of YU admissions and undergraduates.
The competition features an intricate Internet system that provides all committee rooms access to a laptop and printing. There is also a resource room that produces four issues of a newspaper during the three-day conference. Students are encouraged to contribute thoughts, observations, artwork and articles to share with the rest of the conference.
Having been previously assigned countries, the students came prepared to argue their country’s position in a variety of UN committees ranging from the Human Rights Council to the UN Environment Program on topics that had been planned by YU undergraduates. The sessions were entirely chaired and administrated by the more than 50 YU students who joined the conference to moderate the debates between the high school students and select the delegates that would receive awards. “The competition was top notch,” said Benny Smith, a senior at YU’s Syms School of Business. “I had a difficult time figuring out who to award.”
Certain aspects of the competition have attained an almost legendary status, such as the “midnight crisis” thrust on members of the Security Council. This year’s 4 a.m. wakeup was “definitely intense,” according to Daniel Sacks, a senior from YULA High School in Los Angeles. “But being able to solve a crisis and form coalitions at that hour was an incredible experience.”
This year’s competition introduced a new initiative to add a social action component during the conference. In between committee sessions, the students were privileged to hear from Jacqueline Murekatete, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide and currently a student at YU’s Benjamin N. Cordozo School of Law. Murekatete told students her story and implored them to get involved with the world around them.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, also addressed the delegates, explaining his work in Geneva to protect the interests of Israel and other countries that are scrutinized by the Human Rights Council. “This is a very important event,” said Neuer. “I went to the Harvard Model UN competition but couldn’t participate because I was shomer Shabbat [Sabbath observant]. I am enormously impressed, and I wish the real UN was as serious as these sessions.”
For the first time YUNMUN XXII also featured a Jumbotron screen in the main hall where participants could view real-time tweets with the dedicated Twitter hashtag, #yunmun2012.
The conference concluded with an awards ceremony and an address from YU President Richard M. Joel, who reminded the young delegates that “it is not enough to think about ideas. It is not enough to dream—you need to do.”
The author, Sophie Felder, is senior at Stern College for Women majoring in political science with a minor in economics. She is the managing editor for the Stern newspaper, The Observer.