WALLA WALLA, Wash. — “Each time I represent a country at a Model United Nations conference, it’s like reading a book on the way the world works,” said Whitman College sophomore Derek Thurber, founder and secretary-general of Whitman’s Model U.N. Club. “Every chapter is new and exciting and builds on everything I’ve learned from reading the chapters before it. The only difference is that the book never ends.”
Thurber, who has participated in Model U.N. activities since high school, was one of six Whitman students who participated in last month’s Northwest Model United Nations Conference in Seattle, where they took on the roles of ambassadors from Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina in a simulation of a U.N. General Assembly meeting. Thurber was joined at the Seattle conference by first years Kie Watanabeand Christa Heavy, and sophomores Tristan Grau and Mikayla Hunter and junior Becquer Medak-Seguin.
“In general, I think stepping outside of one’s shoes-to use the cliché metaphor- especially into the shoes of someone who you completely disagree with is one of the most difficult things to do,” said Thurber, who represented Germany on the Economic and Social Council at the Seattle conference. “The only way to make any real change in the world is to understand - I mean truly understand, not just read about - the way every country and every person looks at the difficult issues.”
Thurber’s views are in harmony with the college’s ongoing globalization of itstraditional liberal arts education and curriculum. Over the next three years Whitman is embarking on a Global Studies Initiative (GSI) to create an intellectual environment at Whitman that fosters critical thinking on global issues, said the group;s faculty adviser Shampa Biswas, associate professor of politics and director of global studies. “We hope that a liberal arts education from Whitman College will prepare our students to live ethically and responsibly in an increasingly interconnected world.”
At the conference, Thurber was put in a situation that required him to strongly argue an opinion he didn’t personally think would be beneficial for the world. “I didn’t, however, at any point feel that Germany was being a villain or that in representing Germany I was defending a position that was morally reprehensible. On the contrary, I found that representing Germany’s economic interests was a good exercise in realizing how important it is for larger countries to see where their financial aid is going and how difficult it is to be hard-nosed about making sure it is used correctly.”
Also representing Germany, Watanabe won the award for outstanding delegate for her work as a representative of Germany on the Human Rights Council. Winning the award was a pleasant surprise, she said, but the best part of the conference was the opportunity to learn how to become a better communicator, collaborator and leader and gain the confidence to excel in these areas.
The extensive research Watanabe conducted before going to the Model UN conference prepared her to argue Germany’s views on “Reinvigorating the Human Rights Council” and “Human Rights in Conflict and Post-Conflict Zones.” She knew how she would approach the topics once she was sitting at the council. In her approach to being an active participant, she said, she took a few risks, made a few mistakes and asked a lot of questions. She also helped draft resolutions, including one on Georgian Conflict in South Ossetia. “By the end of the conference, I was pushing others to join Germany’s side to the extent that I was frustrated if they didn’t, so that probably shows how much I got ‘into’ the Model UN.” Watanabe said this and future experiences with the Model UN will serve her well, as she plans a career in international relations.
No matter what career path he chooses,Thurber will take with him the skills he has learned through participation in the Model UN. “It has taught me to think critically with an open mind and it has taught me to have the confidence to present all sorts of opinions in front of people. I’ve learned how to collaborate with people who have opposing interests in mind.”
Although the club members don’t yet know what countries they will represent at the Model U.N. conference in San Francisco this spring, the club meets weekly to discuss world events.“We practice different kinds of debates and activities that relate to on-going discussions of current international issues from the perspectives of all the various countries around the world,” said Thurber. About 20 Whitman students subscribe to the club’s list serve, and between eight and 12 members show up at meetings to participate, he said. The club hopes to increase its membership and attend more conferences in the future.
Next on the club’s agenda, however, is to plan and host an international banquet early in Spring Semester, at which renowned attorney Mark Denbeaux will speak. He is a law professor from Seton Hall University, has defended several Guantanamo Bay prisoners and heads an organization that deals with the ethics of international law.
Contact: Lenel Parish, Whitman College News Service, (509) 527-5156