JSC goes to Model UN

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Snowy weather, cancelled buses, a concussion, and a case of laryngitis didn’t stop seven students from going to the Harvard College Model United Nations conference held in Boston from February 13-16. This is the first time Johnson State College has participated at the international event and John Dabrowski, Jennifer Many, Colin Santee, Mercedes Stengel, Pamela McKenna, Jacob Koonz, and Alan Bickings were the faces of the college.

Once a year participating colleges from across the world are given a country to research and represent, meeting for four days to act as though a functioning United Nations to draft resolutions that protect the interests of their persona country. For JSC students, preparation was personal research and a one-page position paper on a topic they chose from a list, but for other colleges an entire 3-credit course centers on the event.

This year was the first time JSC has participated, interest sparked by Associate Professor of Political Science David Plazek who had previously attended the conference with his students when working at Lyndon State College.

“I had seen students grow and really become involved with the program,” he said, so when faculty was asked last fall to brainstorm experiential learning opportunities off campus for students, he saw a “match made in heaven.” His idea was approved and funding allowing for seven students to participate for two years was granted.

Many, a sophomore majoring in environmental science and natural resources with a minor in pre-law had never gone to anything like the Model UN before. She had an unfortunate mishap over winter break, slipping on ice and getting a concussion that prevented her from doing too much research, but she still managed to prepare the one-page position paper.

Incorporating her environmental studies, she chose to concentrate on Lithuania’s famines. The country is sometimes deluged with rain and then goes extended periods without. She thought she would simply be studying the weather, but found it infused with more politics than she expected.

“You think famine is a problem you have to solve, you don’t think people would take sides, but each political party or individual wants to solve it a different way, which creates altercations,” she said.

This played out full-force at the Model UN. Students were separated into committees and tasked with creating resolutions on pressing topics. Each resolution was something that would affect every country, each nation had its own problems it wanted to focus on more. If a nation didn’t like how the answer to one country’s problem affected its own land, heated discussion would break out as the students acted on behalf of the people they represented.

“One of the resolutions we voted for that we thought for sure would get passed was on education system, just the basics, how it needed to be open to every individual regardless of race, religion, and gender,” she said. But the technicalities kept it from passing. “Minor details people didn’t agree with, such as if people didn’t make a certain amount of money, they got this or that for free. Wealthier countries would say, ‘That’s not right – we earned that money and so our people shouldn’t have to pay for your people’s education.’”

Sometimes the politics were so nitpicky that Dabrwoski, a sophomore and political science major, actually refused to vote when two similar resolutions had opposing sides refusing to compromise over small technicalities. Generally similar resolutions were merged together, but in one case both sides refused to budge, spending hours pointing out the negatives in the other’s drafts. Some undecided delegates, like him, suggested talking about what was similar and merging them to a united body, but it didn’t happen.

“I could have played the politicking game and stuck to one side or another, but in the end I found it kind of silly,” he said. He had come down with a case of laryngitis just before the conference and was unable to stand up and say how he felt, so he and several other countries protested by simply abstaining to vote when the sides refused to cooperate.

Learning the parliamentary procedures for the United Nations process was eye-opening, but working with like-minded, intelligent students from around the world was life-changing. He now has contacts from Singapore, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Peru.

“I sat next to someone who was a student from Singapore for most of the committees and we got to know each other, and we’ve communicated since,” said Dabrowski. “We had so many of the same ideas… Even people who held a different viewpoint were able to support it with good arguments, evidence, and facts.”

The conference also provided a means to break down social smoke-screens created by movies and media, he said. People who came from undeveloped countries, largely depicted as ignorant or simple on our movie screens, were “the bell of the ball,” he said.

“A lot of the most talented delegates were from Latin America and were fantastically educated and very well informed.”

Sticking out in his mind were an experienced Peruvian delegate who made it a point to mentor and include Dabrowski and a group of Venezuelan students who maintained a professional demeanor despite violent protests erupting back home.

“At the end of the conference they knew they’d be going back to a country with a suspended government and no real order,” he said. “They never showed any of the anxiety they must have had.”

JSC students are already looking forward to next year’s United Nations. They can’t research until next fall when they are assigned a country, but fund raising is already on their minds. Although they have some money left over from the grant, it’s only enough to cover seven slots.

“The more people you have and the better job you do,” he said, “the bigger and more invested countries you get. United States and China weren’t given to groups who were inexperienced. “

Most important, he said, is healthy growth for the club and attracting people who aren’t going just for a trip to Boston, but who really care about global matters and meeting others with the same ideals.

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