Model UN triumphs at Columbia

On a charter bus en route to New York City on a bright and early morning of Thursday, January 16, Nora Panahi stood and rapped. The night before, she had created a parody of  “Gangsta Gangsta” (by NWA), prophesying the Dana Hall Model United Nations (MUN) team’s inevitable domination of the Columbia Model United Nations Conference and Exposition (CMUNCE) 2014.

Four days later, on the bus returning to Dana Hall, she rapped again, holding the second-place prize high overhead, completely sleep-deprived, a little delusional, but ecstatic and proud of the accomplishments of the Dana Hall Model UN team.

CMUNCE (often also referred to as C-MONKEY) is the annual Model UN conference hosted by Columbia University and Barnard College. For four days, students from all over the world are immersed in debate over topics ranging from top-secret sci-fi programs to a rewriting of the American constitution.

Nineteen of the students from Dana Hall’s Model UN team had the opportunity to attend, and they represented a wide range of positions in fourteen of the conference’s 26 committees. CMUNCE is a high-level, extremely competitive conference, and Model UN is a complex task, one that requires multi-tasking, creative problem solving, and, most importantly, confidence.

The first moment that a delegate enters her committee’s room is the defining moment of her performance for the hours of debate to follow. She must immediately gauge how she will respond to the other students in the room. Who will be an ally? Who will attempt sabotage?

At such a prestigious conference, everyone has his or her eye on the prize. Everyone has done hours upon hours of research, has memorized statistics and has printed out hundreds of pages of UN charters and resolutions. “Entering the committee room the first night is daunting,” remarked Margot Palandjian ’14, MUN tri-head. Paige Taylor ‘15, one of the students who attended, commented, “It was stressful at times but it was fun to meet new people and finally get to compete after weeks of preparation!”

While research and preparation dominates so much of the time preceding the conference, Spencer Babcock ’17 noted, “Without extensive background research, you would be lost and overwhelmed, but it’s so much more than memorizing facts. You need to know how to use that information.” Sofia Vegas ’15 added, “In the first half an hour, I learned other delegates’ level of commitment, knowledge, and how competitive the room is. That first night is just as, if not more, important than all the preparation.”

Through moderated debate, delegates speak frequently, voicing their position’s opinion and proposing their ideas. At the same time, it is necessary to draft directives, formalizing these ideas and advocating them to other delegates in order to gain their support. Creating alliances with the other delegates is key. In addition, almost all of the committees were crisis committees, meaning that debate was frequently interrupted by news updates, which could include anything from terrorist attacks to the election of a new pope, depending on the committee topic. An added challenge was the threat of a midnight crisis, where students are pulled from their hotel rooms in the middle of the night and asked to come up with an immediate solution to some problem that has occurred. Two Dana Hall students, Margot Palandjian ’14 and Sarah Drory ’15, were part of the committees chosen to have a midnight session. Palandjian commented, “Of course I was exhausted, but it was so exciting and just added another level to debate. I killed Hitler that night” in the Soviet Politburo committee.

In the end, Dana Hall took away second place in the category of large delegations. Out of the fourteen rooms that the team competed in, Dana Hall received eleven awards. Model UN awards are determined by the chair of each committee and judge delegates on their overall ability and accomplishments throughout the conference. Spencer Babcock ’17, Alexia Fieger ’15, Paige Taylor ’15, and Jodie Sheffels ’14 received Verbal Commendations (fourth place); Sofia Vegas ’15, Monica Sax ’15, and Nora Panahi ’15 received Honorable Mentions (third place); Becky Ohman ’15 and Abby Benkert ’15 were recognized as Outstanding Delegates (second place); and Sarah Drory ’15 and Kate Glass ’14 were recognized as the Best Delegates (first place) in their committees. Ms. Heather Panahi, the MUN coach, was thrilled by the results. She said, “This was a big win for Dana Hall. To take second in a conference at this level in just our second year of competition at Columbia is a testament to the rigor, professionalism, and dedication that our girls bring to the sport. I have never been more proud.”

On March 1, the Dana Hall Model UN Team will be competing again, at a one-day conference at Boston College High School. Their next large conference will take place at Dartmouth University the week after Spring Break.

Photo: The Dana Hall Model United Nations team poses at Columbia University.

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