A group of Western students meets every Wednesday to prepare for adventures in diplomacy.
Members of the International Affairs Association (IAA) will represent Ecuador at the National Model United Nations this April in New York, where they will participate in simulated United Nations (UN) proceedings as diplomats with student delegations from around the world.
“We also meet with the actual UN representatives of these countries while we are there and discuss the country's foreign policy and role in the UN,” IAA Advisor Sasha Sleiman said in an e-mail. “This experience is a really important one for our students because of the exposure to the real UN as well as students from all over.”
The national conference has opening and closing ceremonies in the UN General Assembly Hall. This year's IAA members will sit in the same seats as Ecuador's delegation.
“Western tends to do really well and wins awards,” said senior Jason Clopper, who is the IAA president.
Last year, representing Romania, Western's delegation distinguished itself as one of the top schools at the National Model UN.
“Out of 160 different teams, we were in the top 30,” Clopper said.
The IAA also participates in regional conferences, including the Model UN of Cascadia and the Seattle-based Northwest Model UN.
“Western won ‘Distinguished Delegation' plus four individual awards for students” at the Northwest Model United Nations, Clopper said.
The IAA prepares for its conferences by doing research on the countries it will be representing.
“You spend a lot of time looking through speeches given at the UN and articles and going to [the] Web site of [the country's] equivalent of the State Department to see what their priorities are,” Clopper said.
IAA meetings are often spent honing speechwriting and public speaking skills, he said.
“On Wednesday we have members give speeches and work on content…as well as style,” he said. “You can't use personal pronouns. You also have to be very diplomatic, so if you want to tell someone they're absolutely wrong, you have to say it in a way that sounds like you're being nice.”
At the conferences themselves, delegations participate within a procedural framework that simulates the structure of the UN. Delegations are on several committees, where students share ideas on specific issues with other delegations and draft resolutions. They also have the opportunity to address the General Assembly, where all nations are represented.
“At first it was intimidating, but after the first day you get into it,” junior Alex McCarty said. “It was a lot of fun.”
“It's a really cool cultural and social thing,” Clopper said. “One of the valuable things about it is putting yourself in the shoes of another country, especially one that is contrary to what you believe. You broaden your perspective.…In Seattle, I represented Russia and one of the topics was the conflict in Georgia.”
“What's interesting is that when you do the Model UN you get kind of glossed-over views of things,” senior Amy Bakker said, who represented Pakistan at a previous conference.
In her research, Bakker found that Pakistan's talking points on human rights issues sometimes avoided Pakistan's own imperfect record on the subject. Nevertheless, she was duty-bound to represent Pakistan's official views, she said.
“Last year and this year we hosted…a high-school conference, sort of our fundraiser for the year,” Clopper said.
Delegation fees for the conference paid by high schools helps raise money for IAA members to travel and participate in its Model UN conferences.
The IAA is an AS club. Since its creation in 2003, its growth in membership has made financing its operations increasingly difficult, according to Clopper. The IAA is currently seeking to become a departmentally related program, funded by the university through the political science department, in order to secure the resources it needs to do more events on Western's campus, Sleiman said.
With the university uncertain about its future funding levels, Clopper said, making that transition has been difficult.
“The future of the Model UN is in question with the budget cuts, which is too bad because it's such a valuable experience to all the students,” he said.