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Model United Nations draws students into research

Three students in Gonzaga University’s Model United Nations organization will speak at Spokane’s United Nations Day Dinner on participating in the National Model United Nations (UN) Conference in April 2011 in New York City with more than 5,900 other students from about 400 colleges and universities, including more than 3,400 non-U.S. participants from five continents.

Model UN Gonzaga

Stacy Taninchev, Micah Rarick and Kaitlin Sandin by the Gonzaga announcement wall

The dinner begins at 6 p.m., Sunday, October 23, in Cataldo Hall at Gonzaga University.

The student speakers are Kaitlin Sandin, who serves as secretary general for Gonzaga’s Model UN; Micah Rarick, a sophomore in international relations and in ROTC, and Randy Head, a first year law student who was secretary general last year.

Model UN programs provide students and faculty a forum to address global concerns in a “real-world” context. Conferences address issues such as regional conflicts, peacekeeping, human rights, women and children, economic and social development, and the environment. They also provide student participants with a better understanding of the inner working of the UN as they build skills in diplomacy and compromise.

Gonzaga was assigned to the General Assembly’s First, Second and Third Committees, the Security Council, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, the Economic and Social Council and the World Intellectual Property Organization.  Gonzaga represented China in the Security Council and Malta in all other committees. 

Stacy Taninchev, assistant professor of political science and faculty advisor for the student organization, said the group started at Gonzaga three years ago.  She came two years ago.

The Spokane Chapter of the United Nations Association gave funds for the 2011 trip to New York in which 14 students participated.  The GU students won an award for outstanding position papers on the issues.

The students have to prepare and send in position papers on the three topics for their particular committees before the conference and these were deemed to be of outstanding quality in terms of actually representing the position of their assigned countries and being well written,” said Stacy.

Preliminary sessions were held in a hotel, and on the final day, the student delegations met in the United Nations building.  Each university’s delegation was assigned a country.

They spent much of the year researching issues for that country and how they might vote on resolutions developed by committees of Model UN participants.

“The real United Nations Assembly can vote on those resolutions if they choose to,” said Stacy.

Currently seven carry-over members are recruiting and screening new members so they will have 14 to 18 members.  Once the number of members is set, they will be assigned a country.  They will spend the fall learning about what the United Nations is and what it does.  Then they will be assigned a country to research for participation in the April 2012 Model UN Conference.

“They are also given three topics to discuss and research,” said Stacy.  “Every week they have a simulation, with some members representing their country—Gonzaga’s was Malta in 2011—and others representing the perspectives of other countries.

Kaitlin, who joined to find other students with whom to discuss politics, said the issues her committee dealt with in 2010 were the security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, maritime piracy and nonproliferation, and the 2011 topics they discussed were human trafficking, energy security in Europe and the security situation in Kyrgyzstan.

As secretary general last year, Randy worked hard to raise funds, recruit participants and promote the Model UN on campus to put the organization on solid footing under the political science department.

Even though he was always interested in international politics, he knew little about the United Nations, which he said is true of most people.

“I’ve learned how nations conduct diplomacy and work to develop common solutions to end poverty and provide health care,” Randy said.  “In the simulations, we learned about other countries. For example, a Chilean student might be representing Japan.  It’s important for people to be involved in politics.  Too many are complacent.”

Micah said research for the Model UN is closer to real-world issues than classes and takes high-end research and analytical skills.

He also realizes there’s a difference between the talking game about a country’s position and how they actually vote.

“I’ve come to see the United States from other perspectives as I argue and support points I don’t agree with on a personal level,” Micah said.

Stacy, who grew up Catholic and is now Bulgarian Orthodox, teaches about international and intergovernmental organizations, specializing in organizations like the United Nations.

 “It takes much time and commitment, and the local group is student run,” she said.  “I’m available to answer questions and help with logistics of travel.”

 “Students learn only so much from texts and lectures,” she said.  “In the Model United Nations, they learn by interacting, negotiating and putting themselves in the shoes of people from another country.”

Because students who are involved are interested in international concerns, many spend their junior year abroad, so most of the returning students are sophomores and seniors.

Stacy began with French studies at New York University and then became interested in studying about the European Union.  That was the focus of her doctoral studies at the University of Pittsburgh, leading to her focus on intergovernmental organizations, how they affect the behavior of states and whether they bring greater peace or cooperation.

I believe they do make a difference in helping states cooperate on some issues, but they are imperfect,” she said.  “The United Nations is not a world government.  There is no central authority in the international system, but the United Nations is useful in fighting global menaces like poverty and starvation, when members can agree there is a problem and work to solve it together.”

She finds the organizations are less successful at bringing world peace, because they are created by nations that do not want to give up their control, so the most powerful countries have greater influence.

“In classes, I talk about what the United Nations does and the importance of knowing its successes and the reasons it is not successful in other ways,” said Stacy, who grew up living on the East Coast and in California with her father’s moves with the Army.  Her family lived in Germany until she was three and her parents had traveled and were interested in other countries.  Her father had studied Russian.  Her husband, who is in hospitality management, is a Bulgarian-American.

For information, on Model UN call 313-3610 or email taninchev@gonzaga.edu.  For information on the dinner, call 313-6698 or 747-5252.