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Saint Michael's Model U.N. team does well at Harvard

02.21.18
By: Mark Tarnacki
U.N. Statehouse 280

Saint Michael's Model U.N. Club members in front of the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston this past Saturday are, from left: Asah Whalen, Mike Pappas, Aidan Walter, Brenna Broderick, Matt Nariff, Ralph Colantino, MacKenzie Boutin, Alex Bushwein, Shane Coughlin and Ryan Lawrence; the photo below shows the same crew in different order by downtown Boston's nearby Robert Gould Shaw Memorial.

A delegation of Saint Michael’s College students made a strong showing as they represented the African nation of Angola during the large Harvard National Model U.N. in Cambridge, MA, this past weekend, Feb. 16-18 – an event that drew participants from around the world.

Brenna Broderick ’20, a political science major from Bridgewater, MA, was the only woman in the Saint Michael’s delegation at Harvard recently -- which she spoke about after the group returned.

"Attending the HNMUN conference was an eye-opening and informative experience for me. Being a woman on a team of predominantly men and a scholar of politics, a male-dominated field, I was excited to see that the conference was evenly attended between men and women,” Broderick said. “I found that collaborating with groups of intelligent men and women on such a relevant and pertinent topic as the status of South Sudan to be a very well-rounded learning experience. To learn that I am the first female delegate to represent St. Mike's at a Model UN conference to our knowledge  [at least for many decades], only made the experience that much more exciting."

Asah Whalen, a junior political science major from Marshfield, VT, and head of the 10-member Saint Michael's team, said he and fellow team members have done some research and discovered that Saint Michael’s was one of the first colleges in the country to have a Model U.N., attending the first conference in 1949 at St. Lawrence University. The College archives also have evidence of a team being active in the late 1980s and early 1990s for several years, attending some of the same conferences at Penn and Harvard according to alumni Attorney Anthony Buono '92 of Valatie, N.Y., who corresponded with Whalen by email to provide some interesting history about the group in that era when Buono was very active, and when now-retired St. Mike's political science professor/VPAA Bill Wilson was the club's adviser. Some women competed in that era too, Buono told them.

Broderick “played an essential role with myself in the Special Political and Decolonization Committee where the topic of discussion was about what the U.N. should do to about the situation in South Sudan," Whalen said. The delegation got a “rose” for Brenna – that is, a message that is read out to the whole of their committee of about 200 people -- congratulating her on being the first woman to compete from Saint Michael’s in the present era of the club's campus revival. “The committee was ecstatic about her receiving that honor, and our College’s club is proud that she was able to attend. She will be a valuable asset in growing the club,” hesaid.

Whalen reports that three of the College’s five pairs of delegates in the competition had their resolutions passed by their committees – quite an achievement “considering that in the other two committees, no resolutions passed at all.”

“This means that everyone from St. Mike’s was doing extremely competitive work where voting came down to the wire,” Whalen said. “Every member of our team showed that Saint Mike’s knows how to play the game of politics.”

He says the Harvard National Model U.N. was significantly bigger and more international than the last conference that he and other members attended last semester at the University of Pennsylvania. The Harvard event drew students from 68 different countries, and over 2,700 delegates, compared with perhaps 1,200 at Penn. Moreover, he said, the whole tone was more courteous and less cutthroat with such an international presence and slightly different rules. Each committee is run by a moderator, a director and assistant, all in this case older students from the large Harvard team.

“In my committee we ended up working very closely with a delegation from the Netherlands, Saint Anselm’s and Norwich University,” said Whalen, who found much common ground with the Norwich team in his committee. “Vermont schools seemed to hold priorities that were similar to ours,” he said.

The Saint Mike’s group headed to Boston Thursday afternoon, arriving at the Boston Park Plaza event site downtown for registration and opening ceremonies later that evening. The 10-person delegation went to dinner together before continuing into the evening, and saved some money by staying at the nearby home of team member Ralph Coluntino, a senior political science and history double-major from Beverly, MA, returning on Friday and Saturday mornings for full days of activity. Whalen said he and Broderick were on the Special Political and Decolonization Committee, which made them central players representing onetime Portuguese colony Angola. Having two committee members allowed one to follow floor proceedings while the other did behind-the scenes “politicking” in the hall, Whalen said.

First – and typical of the students on other committees -- their committee discussed and chose chose a topic to focus on: in this case, the status of south Sudan. Nearly exact language from the “working pages” advanced by the well-prepared Saint Mike’s pair emerged in a resolution that the committee ended up passing, he said. “ The ideas in ours were advanced and the text we wrote made it all the way to the end,” Whalen said of their clauses advocating moving UN peacekeeping to African Union hands -- and they had research to back it up.Gould Shaw Memorial

Besides Whalen (Broderick and Coluntino, St. Mike’s Model U.N. team members were Shane Coughlin, a freshman political science major from New Hampshire,; Ryan Lawrence, a sophomore political science major from Connecticut; MacKenzie Boutin (he’s a senior computer science major from Rhode Island); Matt Narsiff, a senior political science major from New Jersey; Alex Brushwein, a senior physics major from Maine; Aiden Walter, a junior political science major from Foxboro, MA; and Mike Pappas, a senior political science major from Nashua, N.H. Narsiff, “van-certified” by the College, drove the group down in a College van.

Whalen said that being assigned by Angola was a chance, unsought thing, but it worked out well. “We’d specified a bunch of countries we’d be interested in representing beforehand and none of them were Angola, but they handed it to us, and that was a good move since it was so relevant to our committees,” he said.

For instance, St. Mike’s students on an economics committee raised a strong point on ways to expand banking service based on their research that so many Angolans did not have electricity. The whole thing was a great learning experience for all 10 students. Whalen said he was surprised to learn that 80 percent of Angolans are subsistence farmers, which impacted so many policy decisions the team brought forward. “Coming from a place of such humble means meant we brought a perspective to the council that maybe wasn’t there otherwise,” he said, explaining how the group researched Angola and made a fact sheet to use before the conference. Other committee assignment for the St. Mike's crew includedPappas and Walter on defense/military and Couglin/Lawrence on legal.

Whalen said the overall Saint Michael's Model U.N. club team would love to recruit more members -- particularly a few more women.They meet Wednesdays at 8 p.m. in St. Edmund’s Hall Room 104. “I’m taking a break from being chair and letting Mike Pappas do that,” Whalen said, explaining how this year and las,t they’ve mostly been doing interesting simulations built around hot global issues such as the current national role-playing concerning Arab Spring -- but are considering instead practicing in a more General Assembly style model that more closely resembles conferences and competitions. Between 10 and 20 typically show up now, Whalen said, “and I feel we should have 40 to 40, so our next task is figuring that out." Jeffrey Ayres, political science faculty and former dean, is also creating a two-credit Model U.N. course for next fall semester, Whalen said, while Shefali Misra, Ayres’ departmental colleague, is the current adviser.

“My white whale has been Harvard and now that we’ve done that and it went so well, it’s on to the next thing!”said Whalen, who plans to continue gathering information about the club's history and heritage on the Saint Michael's campus.

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