BHHS hosts largest Model U.N. conference in Michigan

By: Brendan Losinski | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 27, 2017

 More than 1,000 students from 40 different high schools participated in the 2017 Model U.N. conference, including seniors Henry Schwartz, left, and Ankur Bansal, middle, from Detroit Country Day School; and sophomore Richard Li, right, from the Roeper School.

More than 1,000 students from 40 different high schools participated in the 2017 Model U.N. conference, including seniors Henry Schwartz, left, and Ankur Bansal, middle, from Detroit Country Day School; and sophomore Richard Li, right, from the Roeper School.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — More than 1,000 students from 40 schools gathered at Bloomfield Hills High School for the 22nd annual Southeastern Michigan Model United Nations Association conference, the largest Model U.N. event in the state.

Bloomfield Hills High School hosted the conference Nov. 18. The event is moved from school to school each year based on who the team’s teacher advisers determine can handle the growing event.

“It’s like a long organized debate,” explained Matt MacLeod, director of the Southeastern Michigan Model United Nations Association. “Unlike a competitive debate, where you have two sides going back and forth, we have 40 committees that debate the best course for individual topics. Each student represents a country; they research their country and spend six hours trying to reach a consensus on the topic they are given.”

Much of the challenge of Model U.N. comes from having to learn about a country enough to realistically represent it. Students also have to learn to put themselves in the shoes of another group of people, who may have a radically different perspective than the students.

“You don’t represent or argue for your own beliefs. You play as a particular country and represent their beliefs and interests,” said MacLeod. “This is done through formal speeches, small group discussions, and committee discussions and votes.”

Such conferences are usually hosted by universities, with students traveling from all around Michigan to take part.

“There are major events at colleges between December and April, with smaller events throughout the year,” said MacLeod. “This conference is sort of a preseason game for the students. It was started 22 years ago and grew from a few students who wanted some practice before the big conferences, to having 1,009 students with an additional 140 students working as staff or chairing committees.”

Steven Chisnell, who is the adviser for the Royal Oak High School Model U.N. team, was the director of SEMMUNA from its start in 1995 until 2015. He said Model U.N. has always provided students with tools for bettering themselves in a fun and interesting way, but those tools are now more important than ever.

“We’re seeing ourselves in a bit of a golden age for Model U.N.,” said Chisnell. “We’ve never had so many teams in Michigan and so many large teams. I think the world is becoming more global. Schools are becoming more global, and social media is making everyone more global, which all makes what students learn here more important. I think there’s a myth outside of education that millennials are apathetic or disengaged, but I think that only happens if they don’t feel engaged. Model U.N. is a big way to make that happen.”

MacLeod, who also is a social studies teacher at Bloomfield Hills High School, said the conference and its mission fit in with the school’s mentality and provide a number of advantages for students.

“Bloomfield Hills High School is very internationally minded,” said MacLeod. “Model U.N. teaches creative problem solving, the global society and mutual understanding in a fun and engaging way.”

BHHS senior Emily Smith joined as a freshman and has been to many conferences, serving as a staffer at five of them, including this year’s SEMMUNA conference, where she was the event’s co-secretary general. She helped lead and organized the conference.

“It’s definitely a very valuable experience, and it teaches you a lot about politics and learning to see things from different points of view,” said Smith. “I enjoy staffing smaller conferences and being a delegate at larger conferences because it lets you see both sides.”

Madison Force, a senior at BHHS, was also a co-secretary general, and said she has learned a lot by being part of Model U.N., particularly about the world around her and the social aspects of life. She also said it has taught her to be a better leader and organizer.

“I didn’t know anything about it, but I thought the best way to get involved in high school was to join a group,” said Force. “I made a lot of friends, and they pushed me to be better and helped me out if I ever had trouble.”

Force said she can’t count the ways Model U.N. has helped her grow in her four years with the group.

“Model U.N is a club everyone should join,” she said. “It gives you so much, and no matter what job you go into, there’s something you can pull from Model U.N. Join to open up doors for yourself and make yourself a better person.”

Model U.N. can lead to some memorable moments, which sometimes are very much affected by the real United Nations. Chisnell said his most memorable moment came at a conference in 1999.

“It was back in 1999, when it was looking like NATO was going to intervene in Kosovo, and at a conference going on at the time, one of our committees was trying to find ways to reach a peaceful resolution before there had to be military intervention,” recalled Chisnell. “It was the last night of a four-day conference. These high school students refused to adjourn until they could reach a resolution. At about 12:30 a.m., we hear a cheer from the room because they found a peaceful solution. The next morning, NATO began bombing. The kids were dumbstruck. They kept asking, if they could find a solution, why the real U.N. couldn’t.”

Chisnell said Model U.N. can mean a world of difference in a swiftly changing world.

“My kids tell me they learn more in Model U.N. than in any combination of classes,” he said. “That’s the payoff for me. That shows they’re interested. I’ve had kids who never do homework write 150 pages for a conference. I could never get them to do that inside a classroom.”