York students gain most awards in North America at world model UN

Of the dozen York students who participated in the Harvard World Model United Nations last month in Puebla, Mexico, five came home with awards for best delegate. That tops any other North American school for the most awards at that event, says York student Aysha Imtiaz.

A fourth-year honours political science student at York, Imtiaz, along with fellow York Model United Nations delegates – fourth-year philosophy student Daniel Mandelbaum, third-year political science student Steven Versa, fourth-year honours political science student Sarita Ebbin and third-year philosophy student Jonathan Virtue – were each given a best delegate award based on their performance at the Harvard World Model United Nations from March 24 to 28.

The other seven delegates from York were Rohan Hill, Joshua Belick, Hamilton Baudner, Jamil Jivani, Rahul Barreto, Elif Genc and Rupinder Assi.

“I’m extremely proud of everybody and to walk away with five awards, the most of any North American school, is amazing especially because we were competing against schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton and West Point,” says Imtiaz. “These are all exceptional schools you are up against. The level of professional knowledge and debating skill is astonishing.”

Delegates from some of these top US schools have practised all year before competing at the international level event. This year, over 1,600 students from over 42 countries attended the Harvard World Model United Nations. Each time, the week-long event takes place in a different location around the world. Previously, Scotland, China, Brazil and Egypt have hosted the event.

Imtiaz calls the experience of participating in model UN conferences “life altering”, saying the goal is to exercise a measure of diplomacy under all circumstances regardless of your own personal views.

The Harvard World Model United Nations conference follows the model of the real United Nations with the participants divided among 21 official UN bodies, including the Security Council, the International Criminal Court, the Crisis Committee and the Economic and Social Committee.

“Basically, it’s very much like the United Nations, but it’s a simulation,” says Imtiaz. “So the first step is to investigate the foreign policy of your country.”

Sometimes people think how well a person does has to do with which country they are assigned to represent, but Imtiaz says that’s not true. “I think if you have critical debating skills and know the country you’re representing, you can do really well.”

Imtiaz represented Canada on the UN Human Rights Council, where she was trying to get a resolution passed to stop discrimination because of the caste system in places like Nepal, India and Pakistan.

The idea was to give a voice to caste leaders and to engage them in dialogue toward fixing the problem of caste discrimination. Having discrimination outlawed isn’t always enough, especially when it’s difficult to enforce as the practice continues to be wrapped up in the culture and history of the place.

“You can only do so much at the UN level,” says Imtiaz. That is why she wanted regional summits included in the resolution to tackle the situation of caste discrimination at a local level as well as at an international level.

The experience encourages delegates to improve their public speaking, analytical, diplomacy and negotiating skills as well as broaden their perspective on a wide range of international topics. The sessions are moderated by a director and are organized under the rules of UN procedure. The Harvard Committee prepares different topics several months before the meeting and chooses a different country for the event each year. The debate requires much preparation along with a meticulous comprehension of the topics to succeed.

“It’s a testament to diplomacy, cooperation and mutual co-existence,” says Imtiaz, who plans to start work on her MA in political science at York next year. “The more influential delegates are the ones getting the awards.”

That means reflecting a high standard of diplomacy, not only in the committee sessions, but during voting procedures, an ability to make alliances with other countries, to negotiate, debate and persuade others to adopt a particular viewpoint.

“You have to be moderating, motioning and moving the debate along, while being informed about your country’s foreign policy,” says Imtiaz. “These are just some of the core elements the chair is looking for and being a leader in the room is sort of a distinctive feature.”

For more information, visit the York Model United Nations Web site.