Government Course Puts Students in Control at United Nations

Each spring, Manhattan College students are immersed in international policy with a visit to UN headquarters in New York City and a docket of issues to resolve.

Students from around the globe descend upon New York City each spring for one of the world’s largest National Model United Nations (NMUN) conferences held in midtown Manhattan and the nearby UN headquarters. 

Among the 5,000 students who attended this year were 16 from Manhattan College’s GOVT 457: Model United Nations course, representing the Portuguese delegation at 2013’s conference titled “Change Your World.”

For the Jasper group, changing the world started in Miguel Hall 214 with Pamela Chasek, Ph.D., professor of government, director of the College’s international studies program, and a board member of the National Collegiate Conference Association, which runs NMUN.

The class received its assignment to Portugal at the beginning of the semester and spent the following weeks researching the government, policies, economics, population trends, defense sector and culture of the country.

“In terms of every other country we’ve represented, [Portugal] was more grounded, conventional and in line with Western standards and the European Union (EU),” says James Estephan ’13, an international relations major, who’s half Portuguese.

Had the conference been somewhere else, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to visit the UN or to attend the EU mission briefing — to be in the middle of the world, essentially.

“It gave us a new perspective,” he adds, noting that he and many of his classmates have represented controversial nations in past conferences, such as North Korea, India, Syria and China.

As the four-day conference commenced, the Manhattan delegates began to tackle a variety of timely issues within their assigned committees, ranging from achieving peace in Somalia to solving a hostage crisis in Mali to strengthening the role of women and children in peacekeeping operations worldwide. 

In between committee sessions, which dominated the 12-plus-hour days, the Manhattan group took advantage of the city’s offerings, enjoying a traditional Portuguese meal together and playing host for their new foreign friends.

“Being in the city goes hand-in-hand with learning,” says Ethan Van Ness ’13, head delegate for Manhattan College and a government and religious studies major. “Had the conference been somewhere else, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to visit the UN or to attend the EU mission briefing — to be in the middle of the world, essentially.”

On the last day of the conference, attendees had the special opportunity to act as real delegates and vote on all conference resolutions in the world-famous UN General Assembly Hall.

“The UN building holds a lot of history,” says Allyson Oliveras ’13, co-head delegate for Manhattan College and an international relations major. “You just feel important when you’re inside.”

After the conference, as attendees parted ways, the Manhattan group headed back to campus on the subway, just a short ride from the epicenter of international policy.

“They did really, really well,” Chasek says. “They were involved and engaged and submitted some really top-notch position papers. They gained public speaking and diplomacy-related skills that are perfect for any graduate or law program or job after graduation.”

By Julie Benns