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Model United Nations program introduces students to global issues

Members of the Model United Nations (UN) at Gonzaga University engage in action-based learning as they prepare to represent different countries, research issues, give speeches and write papers for simulations of UN processes for class, a regional conference and the national conference.

GU political science professor Stacy Taninchev, shares about Model UN experiences.

The 19 students involved in 2015-16 shared last spring how they gained through intensive research, social justice awareness, and the intersection of knowing, caring and acting.

Stacy Taninchev, professor of political science and advisor for the Model UN at Gonzaga for seven years, said, “If students know about international issues, they care about them and are inspired to act to make the world better.”

For the class, students study and represent different countries for weekly simulations.  She is now interviewing students for the next Model UN class and team.

At the Northwest Conference in March at Portland and the National Conference in April at New York City, the students simulate the work of global leaders, portraying representatives of assigned countries and learning how those countries might address issues before the United Nations.

Last year, they represented Rwanda at the national conference, and this year, they represented Ethiopia, the United States and Sierra Leone at the regional conference and Egypt at the national conference.

The national conference draws more than 5,000 college and university students, half from outside the United States, from such countries as Germany, Italy, China, Japan and Chile.  Delegates come prepared to solve three issues relevant to each of the 21 simulated UN committees.  They also visit the United Nations Headquarters.

For more than 48 years the Model United Nations has sought to prepare participants to be global citizens, use cooperative resolution and understand contemporary international issues.

As Model UN members simulate the work of global leaders, they gain skills in international diplomacy.  Students do research and write brief position papers, in order to learn to understand a country and how it stands on issues.  They may have to advocate for positions they disagree with.

“We develop skills in critical thinking, teamwork, research and public speaking,” said Rachael Gantz, head delegate.  “We learn to create something out of nothing.  We build an identity as members of the global community and consider what the world would look like in the future.”

The program taught her to live without certainty, motivating her to continue to learn, aware she could be wrong.

Gonzaga student Emily Hintsala, participated in Model UN

Students learn how important cooperation is for politics, said Emily Hintsala, a Model UN student. She is a sophomore from Renton, Wash., majoring in economics and minoring in Spanish and international relations.

She learned about Model UN at Gonzaga’s fall Club Fair.

“I was surprised by the work involved in research, writing and speaking,” said Emily.

Going to the Model UN conferences made her want to learn more and gave her appreciation of the time, effort and research needed to learn what Egypt would think on rights of indigenous children, rights of children in the digital age and preventing child marriages.

“I had no idea where to start as I went through UN documents on Egypt,” she said.  “Model UN is an opportunity for me to learn about international relations, how countries develop policies and interrelate.  The research has helped me develop opinions and decide what I believe about issues.

“Sometimes, however, I had to argue for the polar view to my own as I took on the perspective of a country.  I sometimes had to do a topic that’s not my first choice,” Emily said.

For example, she hoped to discuss the rights of Egyptian children in the digital age, but the topic chosen was child marriage as a human rights violation.

“Defending an opinion that is not mine is hard.  I had to step back and ask what the Egyptian leaders would say,” Emily said.  “I learned that in Egypt, there are many child marriages.”

While many Americans think the United Nations does nothing, Emily is impressed by the quantity of issues it addresses.  It opens dialogue so leaders hear different perspectives, she said.

Emily has also discovered how religious and cultural norms are ingrained in a country’s laws, so it’s important to be aware of how those norms affect issues.

“I always had a heart for human rights and humanitarian feelings.  In the Bible, Jesus says we are to serve the poor and to serve others.  He preaches that we are to make ourselves less and if we have money we are to give to the poor.  We are to use what we have to help others,” said Emily, who attended a nondenominational church before coming to Gonzaga, where she feels she is growing in faith.  She attends New Community Church in Spokane.

“In Model UN, we learn to understand the different situations of different countries, why there is poverty and why there are human rights violations,” Emily said. 

Stacy said Gonzaga’s UN group started a year before she came, inspired by a Nigerian student who transferred from Miami Dade College, which had a program.

Stacy came to Gonzaga after graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, where the focus of international relations was on theory and debates about international organizations, which did not prepare her to know the daily rules and procedures of the UN.

She has also learned more about how the UN works through advising Model UN students.

“It has enriched my teaching and research,” she added.

Since 2014, she has taught Model UN as a course and advised the student organization.   Students apply in the fall and are interviewed before the team is chosen.

They study UN bodies, the General Assembly and Secretariat. 

Stacy has taken students to Portland for three years for the regional conference.

In the spring, she lectures and students do weekly simulations on different UN committees.  Students chair the committees, because Model UN develops leadership skills.  The committees do research and write resolutions.

Stacy believes the Model UN is “the best vehicle to achieve learning objectives of political science.  Students learn about UN countries, negotiation, speaking and writing skills.  They learn to interact and discover difficulties and rewards of working with others.  They also learn how to propose solutions to global problems.”

Stacy continually seeks funding for the program. 

“I relate this program to Gonzaga’s mission of social justice, creating men and women for others, caring about other countries,” said Stacy, who grew up Catholic and is now Bulgarian Orthodox.

“It gives me faith in humanity that students care, want to help disadvantaged people and make a difference,” she said.

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