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ND, SMC teams compete in Model U.N. conference

Kelly Konya | Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A team of 12 students from Saint Mary’s and 24 from Notre Dame participated in debates and sessions about international issues at the American Model United Nations Conference from Nov. 23 to 26.

Saint Mary’s junior Nicole O’Toole said the conference, held at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago, was a mock convention for committees and boards of the United Nations. The team of Belles represented Australia, while the Notre Dame contingent represented Serbia and Malawi.

“We had sessions each day, and on the last day of the conference, the general plenary votes on all of the passed resolutions within the separate committees,” O’Toole said. “I worked on the first committee for Australia, and we focused on the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and potential problems arising from the accumulation of conventional [ammunition] stockpiles in surplus.

“We came to resolutions on both topics after three days and about 20 hours of both formal and informal debates in our formal sessions.”

Saint Mary’s political science professor Marc Belanger said the conference taught the students about world affairs and how to negotiate effectively in front of a room full of people.

“Our students served on six different [United Nations] committees and councils. And sitting in on those sessions, seeing how the rules work in practice, what makes for effective and ineffective action and how difficult it really is to get almost 100 countries on the same page, even in a ‘mock’ setting, was really valuable,” Belanger said. “The students this year have been pioneers, and their hard work will make this even better for those who attend future conferences.

“[And] apart from the skills students can learn, I think the [United Nations'] mission and role in the world is not well understood, especially in this country in which many people, even educated people, hold inaccurate and even conspiratorial understandings of what the [United Nations] does and how much power it has.”

O’Toole said she thought the conference provided a realistic view of how large a role the United Nations plays in international affairs.

“It was interesting to sit through each session and get into the nitty-gritty of each topic,” O’Toole said. “Now, I have much more respect for the entire process of international debate, and I also understand how much power each individual country has in the [United Nations].”

Saint Mary’s senior Alex Penler, co-president of Notre Dame’s Model United Nations club and president of the Saint Mary’s club, said this marked the first year the College attended the conference as its own school, instead of having a few students join the Notre Dame team.

She said more members of the Notre Dame club attended this conference than any other conference io the past 10 years.

“We worked very hard this year to recruit on both campuses, and we had a great mix of students from all majors with different levels of experience and understanding of international relations,” Penler said. “I was beyond proud of how well Saint Mary’s did, since it was our first year.

“It was a really great way to represent the College and show the world what Saint Mary’s women can do. We were the only female delegation in a heavily male conference.”

Penler said the group will attend the Harvard National Model United Nations Conference in February, one of the most competitive conferences in the world. This conference includes students from institutions on six continents.

Contact Kelly Konya at kkonya01@saintmarys.edu