At the annual meeting of the Harvard World Model United Nations, 1200 undergraduates from 100 colleges and universities around the globe tackled issues ranging from refugee populations and biological warfare to preservation of the European Union. Professor Tahir Shad’s Washington College delegation, representing the interests of the Western European nation of Luxembourg, performed admirably, garnering four verbal commendations and coveted chairmanships of two committees.
During closing ceremonies, English major Jessica Burns ’19 and biology major Sabrina Mendez ’20 were recognized for their work on the UNESCO committee discussing innovative education. Also receiving verbal commendations were political science major Abigail Burnett ’19 and anthropology/international studies major Katie Bedard ’20, who represented Luxembourg in the World Conference on Women discussing the commercial sex industry.
Political science major Josh Peterson ’19 was selected by Harvard to serve as assistant chair to the European Union Committee, and Tyanna Baker ’18, a double major in political science and economics, was selected to help chair the General Assembly’s Disarmament and International Security Committee.
For Peterson, this was his third WorldMUN conference. He applied for the European Union committee because of his previous experience working in the UK government and studying in London last fall as a Hansard Scholar. He hopes to pursue a career in diplomacy, and believes his WorldMUN experiences give him a leg up.
“Harvard likes to choose assistant chairs who are already specialists in the subjects and have in-depth knowledge on the committee topics, which for our committee was the Preservation of the European Union,” Peterson notes. “WorldMUN is so valuable, with students from all around the world coming together in one place to solve the issues facing the world today, and I am so grateful for the College’s ongoing support of our program.”
Prior to the trip to Panama, the Washington College delegation had studied Luxembourg’s positions in their diplomacy class, taught by Tahir Shad, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies, who has directed the College’s Model UN programs since 1989. Part of their preparation for this year’s model program included a trip to Washington to visit Sylvie Lucas, the Ambassador of Luxembourg to the United States, and her Deputy Chief of Mission, Véronique Dockendorf.
“The Ambassador spent two-and-a-half hours talking with us about Luxembourg’s positions on topics of interest to the real United Nations,” Shad recalls. “She also spent a great deal of time talking about how she got into the field of diplomacy, which was of interest to our undergraduates.”
Throughout her own career, she has been particularly focused on issues of international peace and security, peacebuilding, development, and human rights. She previously served as president of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, represented Luxembourg on the UN Security Council, and held the Presidency of the Security Council. Ambassador Lucas also chaired the Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, striving to mainstream the fight to end and prevent grave violations against children into the work of the Security Council.
At the conference in Panama, Washington College students represented Luxembourg on various committees discussing human trafficking, mental health, religious freedom and secularization, and the economic and social integration of refugee populations. One hotly contested topic was what to do with the uncontacted peoples of the world—isolated indigenous populations found deep in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and northern Paraguay. Outside of the Americas, isolated groups live in Papua New Guinea and on North Sentinel Island of India’s Andaman Islands, home to what experts think is the most isolated tribe in the world, the Sentinelese.
“The question was,” says Shad, “should we bring the benefits of the world to them if that also means introducing diseases and altering lifestyles? Different countries presented different positions on it. In Tanzania, the government is trying to force those who have had little contact with modern civilization out of their way of life. Other countries only make contact when they want to exploit their natural resources.”
At the end of the conference, the conference participants put together a position paper that promised to preserve their way of life without the incursions of modern culture.
According to Shad, not only did this experience sharpen students’ research and communications skills, it also gave them the opportunity to go up again bigger, better known schools and realize just how good they are.
“it was strange at first to see the depths it took for some people from other delegations to even make the team for the WorldMUN conference,” notes Mendez. “Within our practices, we worked hard on the notion of public speaking and being comfortable debating a variety of topics, specifically within the exercises where we randomly create an argument on an extremely controversial topic. This was a large part of our success, as well as the simulations we conduct to get experience with the actual committee style that we encounter at WorldMUN.
Mendez was incredibly pleased to win the verbal commendation on the topic of innovative education.
“The speeches my partner and I gave, and our ability to interact and cooperate easily with other people in our committee, made us a standout team,” she says. “We talked to the chair of our committee following the awards ceremony and she made sure to point out that I was a strong speaker, and that my partner was very good at bringing new ideas to the table. Also, we had confidence in ourselves that I think we lacked last year as newcomers to the conference. Overall, we made some great international friends and we are extremely proud of our performance as well as the rest of the Washington College team.”