Lowell hosts first-ever San Francisco Model United Nations conference

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Delegates hold up their country’s name tag to speak. Photo by Jennifer Cheung

What do drugs, disease and gun control have in common? These are topics that students vigorously debate about in a room with approximately 50 other students at a typical Model United Nations conference, an event where students act as delegates of countries to the United Nations and simulate the different committees.

Members of the Lowell Model United Nations organized and hosted the first San Francisco Model United Nations (SFMUN) conference at Lowell High School on Dec. 2–3. About 250 students from 14 schools participated in this student-organized event.

Upon arriving to the SFMUN conference on Saturday morning at 9 a.m., the delegates went through registration which ran from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. After the opening ceremony, which began at 1 p.m., delegates split off into their respective committee sessions which were located in different classrooms at 2:30 p.m., where they debated for three hours.

There were eight committees: the First Disarmament and International Security Committee (DISEC); the Fourth Special Political and Decolonization Committee (SPECPOL); the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee (SOCHUM); the World Health Organization (WHO); the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

“People were getting a little heated, they were really getting into it and I was glad to see that.”

During a typical committee session, delegates represent a country in the United Nations and voice their country’s opinions on the topic that their committee is discussing, even if they personally disagree with its opinions. Delegates take turns sharing ideas by holding up their country’s name tag to ask for permission from the chairs of their committee to have the room’s attention as they speak. Through socializing and exchanging ideas, delegates “challenge [their] minds and thoughts and I think it’s really empowering,” said Sarah Mitchell, the acting as Secretary General of SFMUN and co-president of Lowell MUN. Model UN provides students a chance to converse with their peers about serious issues.

Senior Golden Landis Von Jones, the Head Chair of the DISEC committee, calls on a delegate. Photo by Ciara Kosai

The Head Chair of the DISEC senior Golden Landis Von Jones describes the atmosphere inside his committee. “It was really energetic, there was a lot of passion,” he said. “People were getting a little heated, they were really getting into it and I was glad to see that.”

Afterwards, the delegates had a dinner break and then went back to debating until 8:30 p.m. The next day, delegates returned to Lowell for another day of discussion and eventually came to a resolution within their committee.

SFMUN distinguishes itself from other conferences as it is held at a high school, instead of at a college or university, and also because it is a conference organized by high schoolers.

Another major difference that this conference had was that it was a beginners conference and smaller than other Model UN events. A beginners conference helps delegates ease into the process of parliamentary procedure. Junior Max Goldberg, a delegate from Tamalpais High School representing Saudi Arabia in the SOCHUM committee, mentioned that he enjoyed the size of the committee because this was his first conference. “It’s small enough that it’s easy to debate and fun to learn and not really high stakes, but it’s big enough that it’s not two people sitting in a room pretending to debate,” Goldberg said.

Despite these differences, the event itself is still similar to other conferences. “Here, it’s at a high school and it’s the high school that I go to so it has a very different feel, but otherwise I’d say in terms of the people who are attending they are all high schoolers who are very passionate about Model UN, so in that way it’s the same as the others,” SOCHUM Head Chair senior Lorelei Vaisse said.

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This conference was senior Mitchell’s idea. “I really wanted to host it, so I talked to the administration about it and they were very helpful,” Mitchell said. She and the other officers have been preparing for this conference since April. Some of the things they did for preparation included creating the banner to welcome in the delegates, gathering all the materials and the pamphlets, and creating a website for the conference.

Social studies teacher William Sloan, the adviser for Lowell MUN, said that the logistics of the event required a huge amount of effort and was also very time-consuming. “[It took a lot of work] as you can tell with all the literature that had to be printed, all the emails that had to be sent and all the advisers that had to be contacted and then all the fees had to come in and then we had to set [everything] up,” Sloan said.

The experience was a bit nerve-wracking for Vaisse. It was Vaisse’ first time chairing a committee, which entails overseeing and managing the committee’s members and making sure everything goes smoothly. “When you are chairing, there are ten million things to focus on in the committee and you have to see who is talking the most, you have to listen to what they are saying and you have to pick the people who are talking based on what the dispute was over before,” Vaisse said. Through this experience, Vaisse learned how to juggle multiple tasks at once.

SFMUN officers present at the conference. From left to right: Senior Matthew Lee (Deputy Secretary General), senior Sarah Mitchell (Secretary General), senior Jenny Tram (Chief of Staff) and junior Lola Cleaveland (Under Secretary General). Photo courtesy of Jenny Tram

Junior Lola Cleaveland, the Under Secretary General of Logistics, who will be the president of Lowell MUN next year, says that she hopes to use the revenue from delegate and delegation fees to make the SFMUN conference an annual event. “The club gets ​some​ ​revenue​ ​from​ ​holding​ ​conferences​ ​like​ ​this​ ​and​ ​we​ ​can​ ​take​ ​that​ ​into planning​ ​the​ ​conference​ ​for​ ​next​ ​year,” Cleaveland said.