UN Club Brings the World to Oberlin
Although our nation has shied away from multilateral forums in recent years, here at Oberlin the spirit of cross-national dialogue has been revived by the recent formation of the Oberlin Model United Nations.
Over the previous summer, a group of incoming first-years, most of whom had participated in model UN during high school, became acquainted through Facebook and the Oberlin first-year LiveJournal. Realizing the absence of such an organization on campus, they decided to meet during orientation week to start the ambitious project of forming a model UN at Oberlin.
The culmination of their efforts was this semester’s first In-House Conference, which was held last Sunday. The setting for the conference was the UN Development Programme, and the topic “The question of the role of environmental and social sustainability in the international economic system and development strategies.” Students representing 17 countries participated in a simulation of an actual UN committee, adhering strictly to the by-laws and customs of the global organization.
Addressing each other as “honorable delegate,” the representatives went through the complicated process of debating, proposing and voting in order to come to a resolution. Providing a dynamic show of brains, humor and drama, the committee was fascinating to observe. It was clear that hours of research and practice had been committed to making the quality of debate exceptionally high.
Delegates passionately and eloquently discussed the differences of priorities between developed and developing countries. For instance, while Brazil and South Africa argued that environmental concerns must not impede the economic development of a nation, Norway argued that sustainability should be the primary concern of all countries regardless of economic situation.
At the end of the nine-hour session, the committee passed three resolutions. A resolution sponsored by Cuba “recogniz[ed] the debt owed by many of these underdeveloped countries that often spend more money trying to alleviate debt than feed their people” and urged the “re-evaluation of foreign debt owed to governments of other countries by underdeveloped countries that have not achieved sustainability.”
In addition to passing the resolutions, the committee also created an International Fund for Environ-mentally Sustainable Development. The fund would provide monies to be distributed to developing countries to support economic growth and environmental sustainability.
Witnessing the level of conflict between 17 countries in a model UN session puts into perspective the fact that the real United Nations, with 192 member states, still manages to function. As first-year Sohaib Naim, the co-chair of OMUN and the delegate from Brazil stated, “People criticize the UN for its sluggishness but Model UN shows the reality of how difficult it is to pass resolutions.”
Participating in a model UN can be a mixed experience. It includes the opportunity to represent countries that are not one’s own and therefore increase one’s knowledge and expertise as a member. On the other hand, as College first-year Helen Burns, the delegate from Turkey, stated; “It’s really hard for people to stay within the context of [the country they represent in model UN]. For example, if I, as the representative from Turkey, had to say the Armenian genocide didn’t happen it would be hard to do.”
Overall, the experience appeared to be positive for the dedicated first-years who formed the organization from scratch. At the end of the session, first-year and chair of the committee Shannon Ikebe, gave awards in several categories to well-deserving participants. Best Delegate went to first-year Meredith Hickson, representing Norway, and Best Speaker went to Sohaib Naim of Brazil.
In the spring, in addition to more in-house conferences, OMUN will travel to Dayton, Ohio to attend a statewide model UN The organization’s future plans also include garnering enough support from students and the administration to compete at the national level in model UN competitions.