Fairfield Now - Spring 2007
By Barbara D. Kiernan, M.A.'90
Cristina Dieguez '99, MBA '06, loves to read the names: Sabatini Sabbat, Senya Bekui, Tim Olson, Bilal Chaundry, Christine Cohen, Haneen Sakakini, Jon Delvento, Zenaida Baksh, Brooke Peterson, Juhi Purswani, Jyostne Mullur, Cinnamon Lewis, Camy Shaaban. With their lilting polysyllables and not-always-familiar sounds, the nationalities represented by these names mirror the diversity (and the point) of the student organization she moderates at Fairfield: Model UN.
|Club moderator Cristina Dieguez '99 (right) marvels at the work Model UN president Jessica Norris '07 (left) and its members do in hosting an annual Model UN conference on campus for high school students.|
In this case, however, Dieguez is reading from a list of nearly 200 high school students who came to campus last November from 14 public, parochial, and private schools in Connecticut and New York. What drew them was the chance to participate in a Model UN Conference designed for them by members of Fairfield's club. For club members, it's a chance to learn and to serve by doing.
"Ours is a training conference. We keep it deliberately small so the students can practice their negotiation and debate skills and get more familiar with the formalities of parliamentary procedure," explains Jessica Norris '07, an international studies and Spanish major who serves as club president. However, the secondary school students aren't the only beneficiaries. "Teaching the high school kids helps me pick up the fine points of parliamentary procedure," says Michelle Serratelli '09, who joined Fairfield's club as a freshman. "My high school didn't have Model UN," she says, "but I've always been interested in the world. I love to travel and want to see the world, but I also want to understand what's going on in it."
Model UN - and the club's hosting of an annual training conference - certainly contributes to such an understanding. To prepare for the conference, Fairfield's club members decide at a spring meeting which UN committees will be "in session" at the fall conference. They then choose the topics up for debate in each committee (see p.29). Once that's settled, the real activity begins.
"The work our students do in the summer is the equivalent of a major term paper," says Dieguez, pointing out that they earn no academic credit for this effort. Working alone or in small groups, club members compile background information about each committee and its purpose, as well as position papers related to whatever topic will be discussed.
Norris, for example, did her "backgrounder" with co-member Amber DelPrete '08. Up for debate was the expansion of NATO's membership to Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia. The duo's 12-page paper included a brief history of NATO, its membership standards, and the issues that could affect each country's application to join. Also included were websites that high schoolers could use for further research, a bibliography, and questions for them to consider in approaching the debate.
Dieguez, whose full-time job as Fairfield's associate director of Annual Giving means she's on campus much of the summer, takes care of the conference logistics while the students are away. She serves as liaison to the participating high schools and sends club advisors their school's committee assignments as well as the background papers early in the fall. They then choose which countries their students will represent.
Student from 14 high schools in Connecticut and New York spent the day in caucus, debating and seeing consensus on
issues of international concern.
Ed Sembor '78, the Model UN faculty advisor at Marianapolis Prep (Thompson, Conn.), says his students work diligently on preparing their own position papers and, based on debate and feedback, do revisions between their weekly meetings. "A critical skill to develop for the conference is the ability to articulate their ideas to the committee they're assigned to," says Sembor. "The students tell me they really enjoy meeting other students who are similarly interested in international affairs. As a Fairfield grad who majored in politics, I also find it interesting!"
What's hardest for participants - at every level - is to remember that they are representing not their own viewpoint but that of their particular country. To emphasize this point, speakers are called upon not by their names but by country when they raise their placard seeking a turn to speak. "What's funny," observes Dieguez, "and this applies to all Model UN conferences, is that people become known by their country. You can be walking on Yale's campus and hear Japan calling out ‘hello' to Denmark!"
At Fairfield's conference, whichever University student compiles the background paper for a committee serves as its moderator. For Serratelli, who had written about the European Union (EU) and its policies on immigration, the prospect of moderating was at first daunting. "When you're before the high school kids, you know they're depending on you for information and that they are looking up to you," she says. She spent the first 10-to-15 minutes explaining parliamentary procedure and how they go about getting on the speaker's list. Each speaker gets a mere 45 seconds, and placard raisers often have to wait for three or four other speakers before responding to the original point. "You learn to think on your feet, and to hold a thought while following the argument," says Serratelli. "We try to create an encouraging atmosphere where the kids can practice this, as well as learn to negotiate and build consensus."
To make it an even better simulation of the New York City-based international body, press releases of breaking news arrive when some committees are in session. During the Security Council's deliberations at Fairfield's training conference, for example, "news" that Iran had just launched a nuclear missile required quick and nimble thinking as its members reacted.
Of course, none of this is new to Fairfield's more seasoned Model UN members, who participate in national and international conferences during the year. Norris, for example, represented Chile at Yale's conference this fall - a real plus given that she had spent the previous semester studying in that country. Her only regret? "I was abroad in Chile when Fairfield's team went to the World Conference in China last spring!" she laughs. Not to worry: this year's World's are in Geneva, Switzerland, and she'll be on the Fairfield squad that goes.
"A full-fledged conference is four days long, with several three-hour sessions a day," says Serratelli. "People get hard-core serious about it." Training for such rigor begins early, and Fairfield University's Model UN club is pleased to be among the university-level organizations that extend their know-how to high school students. "It's great for Fairfield," says Norris, "because this really diverse group of kids gets to see our campus and associate it with something academically challenging. Who knows? Maybe Fairfield University will become a goal for them."
World Health Organization
Historical Security Council
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
European Union (EU)
United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR)
Disarmament and International Security (DISEC)
Special Political and Decolonization (SpecPol)