What is Model United Nations?

According to UNA-USA, “Model United Nations is a simulation of the UN General Assembly and other multilateral bodies. In Model UN, students step into the shoes of ambassadors from UN member states to debate current issues on the organization’s agenda. While playing their roles as ambassadors, student “delegates” make speeches, prepare draft resolutions, negotiate with allies and adversaries, resolve conflicts, and navigate the Model UN conference rules of procedure – all in the interest of mobilizing international cooperation to resolve problems that affect countries all over the world.”

Essentially, a team of students, called “delegates”, attends conferences held by other universities and represents a specific country or individual. In traditional “General Assembly” committees, each student represents a specific country (i.e. the Stanford delegate could be the United States and the UC Berkeley delegate Zimbabwe), and participates in a specific committee (i.e. the Security Council, UNEP, or the WHO). Those individual delegates then spend a weekend debating delegates from other schools on different in international conflicts—such as human trafficking, the global economic recession, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—and, hopefully, pass a long, comprehensive resolution addressing how to solve the problem.

In the U.S. collegiate circuit, many conferences also include—sometimes exclusively—non-traditional, crisis-based committees that simulate a historical, current, or future situation. These committees can be based on history and fact, but can also be entirely fictional, giving the delegate a wide array of opportunities and opening MUN up to students who may not necessarily be interested in the traditional, “General Assembly” committees. Each student represents a specific country, individual, or organization (i.e. the Stanford delegate could be the Vice President of the United States, and the UC Berkeley delegate could be the Secretary of Agriculture) in a specific committee (i.e. the United States Cabinet in 2015). Those individual delegates then spend a weekend debating delegates from other schools on specific crises presented by the committee—such as ethanol subsidies, a farmers’ riot—and pass short, action-based directives addressing how to solve crises as they develop.

In addition to learning about global issues, Model UN delegates gain public speaking, negotiation and interpersonal skills while debating other students from around the world.

What would I do at a conference?

First you would get your country and committee choices. The conference assigns positions, such as those mentioned above as an example, to specific committees as determined by the conference staff. Committees can be anything from the UN Development Programme, to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, to a war cabinet during the Napoleonic Wars.

Once you have your assignment, you can download your committee’s background guide from the conference website. The background guide will give you a brief overview of the topic(s) you’ll be debating. Next, you’ll start researching your topic and your country’s position. All this research will be culminated in a position paper that you’ll submit to your committee’s chair before the conference.

Then we’ll spend the whole weekend at the conference. Committee usually lasts from around 9am to 11pm (with some breaks in between). Conferences are generally held at the University campus or a nearby hotel. In committee, you’ll give speeches, write resolutions and talk to other delegates about how to address your committee’s topic. The intention is to form a bloc of other nations/individuals to solve the problem at hand. You can also give support or oppose other bloc’s resolutions, depending on your country or individual’s position.

At the end, the committee staff will decide the awards. The common awards include Best Delegate (which is the highest honor), Outstanding Delegate, and Honorable Mention. Delegations are often also considered collectively and given Delegation Awards. These awards are decided based on many factors, such as your speeches, resolutions and/or directives, and your general effectiveness in leading debate, with no common standard across the circuit. However, awards are only one part of the experience, and at Stanford we pride ourselves in being competitive but also enjoying ourselves, making friends, and representing Stanford.

How do I join?

Check our “get involved” page.