Model UN

Model UN

In this age of advanced technology and multiplying social media platforms, it may now seem more important than ever to reconnect to the world around us in more personal and direct ways. Many teenagers too easily retreat to their bedrooms or dorm rooms numbed by streaming services or video games and habitual distraction. Yet in today’s ever-changing global climate the world faces severe issues generally avoided as topics for discussion. Many in our society have been taught or learned not to voice their opinions in order to avoid tension or debate. However, some issues that plague our country and world can only be solved through active, informed discussion. It is in that way that a Model United Nations [Model UN or MUN] serves as a powerful educational tool offering highly valuable benefits to students in this complex institution of modern education and learning.

Model UN promotes the discussion of topics that can be considered taboo or inappropriate for conversation. Because MUN permits students to be active participants in today’s turmoiled and divided societies, the benefits of MUN go well beyond the classroom. Over the years Suffield’s student population has grown to encompass more than 35 international countries and nearly 20 domestic states annually. The world as such has become a global village and no age is too young to begin preparing for the future. For schools, a Model UN program therefore serves as an ideal stepping stone into a greater global conversation.

In its purest form, a MUN conference is a simulation of an actual real-life United Nations event, where students are tasked with solving a global issue through research and drafting, lobbying and debate in order to pass a suitable resolution. There students take on the roles of delegates, speakers, and chairs representing various countries working together with the common goal of reaching a solution for the agenda assigned. The agendas or topics taken up during the MUN are a reflection of real-world issues discussed by the official United Nations and range from subjects such as the rights of religious or racial minorities to specific topics such as climate change, commodities, or food poverty. Participation in these events results in furthering students’ development in leadership and problem-solving skills, research and writing, and public speaking. Moreover, developing possible solutions acceptable to the majority of student representatives imparts skills of negotiation and conflict resolution, cooperation and diplomacy.

Five Suffield students accompanied faculty advisor Phil Riegel ’87, P’20, ’24 to the National High School Model United Nations (NHSMUN) Conference held in New York City on February 28 thru March 2, 2020: Rebecca Moglin ’21 (Southwick, Massachusetts), Saud Shawwaf ’23 (Riyadh, Saudia Arabia), Ben Reimer ’22 (West Hartford, Connecticut), Yozawin Sanguansin ’21 (Bangkok, Thailand), and Stanley Huang ’20 (Shanghai, China). This marked the school’s first-ever appearance at an event of this kind.

Located at the United Nations Headquarters and New York Hilton Midtown, the NHSMUN is the world's largest Model United Nations conference, with hundreds of schools and thousands of delegates attending from around the world. NHSMUN is known for its diverse, prestigious attendees, its world-class staff, and its engaging committee simulations of proven substantive quality. NHSMUN provides students with opportunities to interact with high-profile, relevant United Nations figures, including an in-person visit with diplomatic representatives of the countries the students are representing.

Suffield’s delegation was assigned and represented the Kingdom of Bahrain and met with Hatem Abdulhamed Hatem, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the United Nations. By the end of the conference and in a remarkable achievement by such a small delegation, Suffield Academy was just one of four schools to be awarded a prize for excellence. In total there were 2,500 students in attendance from 250 schools.

Suffield was on three committees: The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) presented by Rebecca Moglin and Saud Shawwaf, The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) presented by Ben Reimer and Yozawin Sanguansin, and The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) presented solely by Stanley Huang. Topics discussed included the disproportionate effect of natural disasters on women and occupational segregation and inequality in the workplace (CSW), the effects of protectionism on trade and reducing offshore capital (capital flight) in African Countries (UNCTAD), and the use of cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment and maternal and child health in conflicted areas (UNHRC).

Director of Development Phil Riegel commented on what it was like experiencing the NHSMUN conference in New York for the first time: “It was truly an unbelievable experience but what really struck me was how many teams attended from abroad including South and Central America and Italy. These were large groups of 25 to 30 students with Suffield on a smaller scale in comparison. The robust schedule developing proposals and plans kept our student-delegates extremely busy with four-hour sessions both in the mornings and afternoons. Another thing that really stood out to me was that the conference specifically banned the use of technology with the common goal of leveling the playing ground between teams and schools who may not have access to similar advancements. We therefore saw droves of hand-written briefs in binders and all of the teams there taking this event very seriously. What most people do not realize is how important MUN is to our international population and how familiar they are with it. MUN is an outstanding example of active citizenship and diplomacy—the essential foundations of our diverse learning here at Suffield—and the endowment funded by Bruce Cohen’s generous gift has secured its place in our school’s forever-programming.”

A member of Suffield Academy’s Class of 1966, Bruce Cohen attended the University of Michigan where he studied political science, psychology, and art history. After graduating in 1970, Bruce went on to earn a law degree at American University located in Washington, DC. While there he worked part time for a senator from Michigan and after earning his degree worked another three years for a United States Congressman. It was soon thereafter he exited Capitol Hill and transitioned to the executive branch labor department. There he would remain receiving multiple promotions over a long and impressive career until retiring as the Deputy Associate Solicitor for Legislation and Legal Counsel. “Ever since I can remember I was always interested in public policy and political science,” he says in recounting his youthful aspirations and eventual career. “Over the years I’ve worked in disciplines such as pension law, equal opportunity employment law, labor relations, and all the while did a fair amount of speech writing. All of these things coincide with the purpose of the Model UN program.”

When this all began, I wanted my name and gift to remain anonymous because I felt my identity was secondary to the benefits of the program or efforts made by Suffield students. However, now I hope that by acknowledging my contribution and publicly applauding the efforts of the students, it may inspire others to generate additional support for this program and the development of additional leadership opportunities of equal importance and service to the Suffield Academy community and to the world in these troubled times. Bruce Cohen ’66

Bruce explains that the idea to initiate the endowed Model UN gift to Suffield was birthed by a conversation he had with Head of School Charlie Cahn during a dinner they shared at Bruce’s Class of 1966 Reunion. “About a year prior to our 50th Reunion I was looking over my will and realized I had made provisions for certain contributions to the schools I attended but decided I would rather take action now while still able to see my support brought to fruition,” he reflected nostalgically. “While I do support Suffield’s Annual Fund it was at this time more important for me to invest in what I consider to be a personal cause. I was always passionate about the arts and public policy and had a lot of meaningful experiences as a legislative attorney on Capitol Hill and at the US Department of Labor. So, when Charlie came back to me with an idea to reinvent and reestablish the Model UN at Suffield I didn’t just like the idea, I LOVED the idea. Together we discussed it in more depth and detail and Phil agreed to come on as faculty advisor. We are now history in the making.”

Needless to say, Bruce was thrilled about the support and enthusiastic response from Suffield students who joined Phil in attending the NHSMUN conference last year. “The more I read about the NHSMUN the more excited I was to greet the students at the conference in New York,” says Bruce. “I arranged other meetings to coincide with the calendar dates. I met up with Phil and the group, enjoyed a lunch together, and attended multiple NHSMUN sessions. I can say whole-heartedly the Suffield students blew me away with their dedication and initiative. They were leaders in their work and had obviously done a lot of research and planning and rightfully deserved to be awarded their prize for excellence. I am very proud of all of them if that is all I can say. I am hopeful and quite certain there will be more students like them who are actively engaged in Model UN, a relevant and vital compliment to Suffield Academy’s Leadership Program.”

Not only did Suffield’s achievement gain credit with other delegates attending the NHSMUN conference, their success and voice also caught the attention of first-year teacher Aidan Cheney-Lynch who joined Suffield’s Department of Languages in 2019. “I was not aware of the Model UN until well into the first month of school as I was just settling into the boarding school community,” he says. “Dean of Academics and Faculty Sara Yeager introduced me to the idea, but it wasn’t until the following summer that it began to resonate. I wanted to be involved with an on-campus organization whose mission was diplomacy, international affairs, and service to others. As a lifelong student and teacher of contemporary and classical languages, I have a bent ear for mediation between different points of view formed on the basis of distinct cultural value sets to which language speakers identify. The study and comparison of world languages, at the end of the day, takes into account culturally infused perspectives, acknowledges the common ground they share, and advocates for constructive communication and cultural exchange between them. MUN is an example and extension of this inclusive learning model. It encourages students to step into the shoes of a culture other than their own and consider with equanimity their needs and wishes in the same way they think of their own. The skills learned in MUN equip our students to identify and transcend ethnocentric vantage points, and put them into a position to discover their place in the world and the importance of service. Learning is at its best when we learn from each other.”

While both Phil and Aidan look forward to joining Bruce and the team of young delegates at this year’s NHSMUN conference—whether in person or by remote participation—so does returning sophomore Saud Shawwaf, who in a large part spearheaded the student initiative: “MUN has been a large part of my academic life since middle school, and upon arriving at Suffield I was disappointed to discover Suffield did not offer a MUN program. My parents supported my decision to start the MUN club and have long recognized its value in education. I think MUN is important because it teaches students three key skills in navigating today’s society: awareness on current affairs, public speaking, and research. At NHSMUN we participated in many diverse and engaging simulations where we tackled real-world problems affecting all nations. We had an exceptional time at the New York conference and were excited to be awarded the prize for overall excellence. Together we hope to make the MUN the most attractive and interesting club on campus, positioning it in good hands with strong, passionate, and curious delegates leading the way for years to come.”

Bruce concludes, “When this all began, I wanted my name and gift to remain anonymous because I felt my identity was secondary to the benefits of the program or efforts made by Suffield students. However, now I hope that by acknowledging my contribution and publicly applauding the efforts of the students, it may inspire others to generate additional support for this program and the development of additional leadership opportunities of equal importance and service to the Suffield Academy community and to the world in these troubled times.”