This article is part of a series that explores Model UN circuits. We previously profiled the West Coast, Puerto Rico, and Southwest Florida. The Midwestern circuit is fragmented with several major players, one of which is the Model United Nations Development Organization (MUNDO) which hosts CIMUN. This guest article was written by Jack Durkin, a graduating senior at St. Ignatius College Prep, and explores the influence of CIMUN on the development of Model UN in the Midwest.
I would like to start this post by saying that I do have experience in Midwestern Model United Nations. I’m about to graduate after four years at a Chicago-area high school, St. Ignatius College Prep, and four years in Model UN. It’s been a great four years, and hopefully I can continue the experience in college, but this article is not about me. It is about the Chicago International Model United Nations Conference (CIMUN), which I am using here as an example of the Midwestern “scene” of Model UN. Thankfully, I do have some experience in that as well. However, Please note that the opinions expressed here are not those of anyone affiliated with MUNDO, MUNWORLD, or from any CIMUN staff members. These are merely the opinions of a second-semester high school senior. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin.
1. The Competition
Now, I’ve only been to a few East Coast conferences, but I believe that I’ve noticed a general pattern. These conferences tend to focus on diplomacy: being able to work together, to negotiate, to put your best foot forwards. On the other hand, CIMUN purports to be about realism, and while that means you won’t see people forsaking their positions just to agree on something, somewhere along the line someone took “realism” to mean “realpolitik” and the conference has never looked back from there. Assassinations are commonplace in some committees, backstabbing is present in almost all of them, and if you go off position or make some other sort of mistake, do not expect it to go unnoticed. While this style may not be as calm as other MUN conferences, the Chicago International Conference is without a doubt the most realistic.
In fact, this trend could certainly apply to most Midwestern conferences in general. Having participated in a couple local high school conferences, I can say that many local schools seem to imitate the general nature of CIMUN, if not the minutiae. Examples include SIMUN (Run by St. Ignatius College Prep.), SILTMUN (also partially run by Ignatius), and SHSMUN (run by Stevenson High School).
2. The Technical Aspect
I believe that if I am to continue, some details about the conference should probably be cleared up first. First, CIMUN is not directly affiliated with any particular school, unlike NUMUN (Northwestern), MUNI (University of Illinois), or MUNUC (University of Chicago). Instead, CIMUN is organized by MUNDO, a model UN organization. This means that chairs, sims, and other staff members can represent all kinds of schools. And while many staff members have attended the conference in the past and attended area high schools, the awards are given not on a school basis, but by “Delegations”. This means that each country represented at CIMUN is for all intents and purposes a mini-school. Each delegation is given its own head delegate, who is expected to coordinate the country’s position and occasionally check in on the other delegates (the latter part I admittedly neglected during my own stint as head delegate). This may not seem like much, but it does provide some interesting twists to the standard formula. After all, it is interesting to watch the larger schools with multiple delegations compete against their own classmates whom they trained with.
In addition, there’s two position papers submitted to the conference beforehand: a White Paper and a Black Paper. The White Paper is the usual position paper, nothing special there (although it can be accessed and read before the conference starts). But the Black Paper offers another turn of the screw. Remember when I said Machiavellian politics was common at CIMUN? Turns out the staff practically encourages that sort of behavior. In the Black Paper any ulterior motives, any secret plots, whatever it is your delegation as a whole wants to accomplish can be printed here for the eyes of the staff only. This means you’re going to have to work together with the other members of your delegation if you want to succeed.
3. The Schools
CIMUN is an international conference, like many others throughout the world. Delegates come from across the country and the globe to participate. While much of the international buzz last year focused on some French students that frankly seemed a bit culture-shocked by the whole ordeal, students from outside the US aren’t exactly an unfamiliar sight. However, most of the schools here are from the Midwest, which makes sense: there’s not as many colleges hosting their own conferences, and there’s only a few one-day, high-school-hosted conferences. As such, the Midwestern schools are the ones who are most familiar with the ins and outs of the conference. There are two of these schools you should watch out for at CIMUN. It seems like every year, these two are in the running for Best Delegation.
- University of Chicago Lab School: This school wouldn’t be out of place in a more traditional Model UN setting. And considering that Best Delegate ranked them as 3rd best high school in the country as of this spring, I’d assume that Lab does very, very well outside CIMUN. They’re cooperative and they follow parliamentary procedure to the letter…they’re good delegates. Unfortunately for them, Lab may seem at times a little weak compared to their competition (at least at CIMUN. Again, this is not to demean them as delegates. It’s just that their style of Model UN doesn’t exactly fit well enough with CIMUN’s criteria. In addition, the fact that they split up their team to win Best Small Delegation at Princeton may have something to do with this. Expect them to win plenty of awards, but unless they come at full strength, don’t expect anything too big.
- Saint Ignatius College Prep: As mentioned earlier, this is the school I attended for four years. Regardless, it’s impossible to write about CIMUN without mentioning these guys. During my high school experience, there’s been only one year when St. Ignatius didn’t win Best Delegation. When they come prepared (something that’s been a bit inconsistent for this school), they are a force to be reckoned with. They know the conference better than anybody else in the room, and it shows. Now, I’ll admit that Ignatius has some work to do before becoming more prominent on the national level. But at CIMUN, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them winning some more gavels next year. Not that I am biased of course.
There are also plenty of other local schools involved, although covering all of them would be a task unto itself: Lyons Township High School, Stevenson High School, the Chicagoland MUN Group (an independent program), Carl Sandburg High School, Kaneland High School, Maine South High School, and any others I’ve unfortunately neglected to mention. Just because I’m only focusing on three schools does not mean that the rest can be simply ignored, it’s just that I don’t exactly have the inclination to write a full bio for each school.
4. The Simulations
Recently, I attended the NAIMUN conference in Washington DC. There, they made a few references to improving their simulations in the past few years. This is certainly good: it provides a bit of excitement over the three-day crawl and provides a realistic glimpse of how global policy decisions are made. Notice the word “realistic”. Considering CIMUN’s love of “realism”, they’ve been crazy about their simulations for a while now. These work on a two-pronged basis. The Present-Day committees have their own crisis (for instance, last year focused on Pakistan’s government being taken over by Islamic fundamentalists) and the Historical Committees have their own crisis (Last year’s took place in 1989… in fact, they usually seem to be dealing with the Cold War). Combine this with the delegation system, and you get a conference that practically requires cross-committee communication if the delegation’s ultimate goals are to be achieved. News updates can come from the traditional Press Corps newsletter/blog, or from the “CIMUN News Network”. The “CNN” is put together by the staff, and although it’s an effective source of information, expect to cringe at the production values and “comedy”. Oh, and last year they actually got a channel in the hotel to play “CNN” updates 24/7, an idea that could be great if it were implemented better.
These crises are the most intensive I’ve seen in any conference. Of particular note is the fact that the crisis doesn’t simply stay in one cabinet. If a major event happens, than that event (and the reactions to it) will echo out of the cabinets (which, as usual, are the focal points of the crisis) and into the other committees as well, even the GAs. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the GAs will get to have a midnight crisis: the smaller the committee is, the more impact it tends to have. That being said, even the midsize committees will find themselves thrown headfirst into the simulation. Now, there are some out there who prefer a more traditional format: 2-3 topics, no crisis, just debate and resolution. This is fine. There are conferences out there that do this. However, CIMUN is not one of them. It’s fast-paced, encourages improvisation, and… well, “more fun” is a bit of a subjective term, but I sure enjoyed it.
5. The Experience
In fact, this conference is probably the most fun I’ve had throughout my 4 years in MUN. The facilities at the Fairmont Hotel are some of the most luxurious I’ve ever seen at a conference, although be prepared for some serious stair-climbing: the elevators often prove to be more of an inconvenience than anything else, with wait times that might creep into the hours during the post-committee rush if you’re too slow (or unlucky). The food is good, and the opening ceremonies have a banquet as well, allowing you to get to know your committee, eat, and listen to the speaker (noticeably more interesting than just sitting and listening to the speaker). Assuming you’re not entirely wrapped up in committee, there’s plenty to do in Chicago (Millennium Park and Navy Pier are pretty close by, although dress warmly: Chicago in December isn’t exactly the most hospitable climate). And the dance is fun, although those averse to the thought of a group of teenagers dancing with only a few inches of fabric between them should probably stay away. Actually, come to think of it, that’s a pretty good guideline for just about any conference.
All in all, it’s something new for Model UN. Sure, it is not without it’s flaws, but every conference is going to have problems. And for all its problems, I’ve found my fondest Model UN memories come from CIMUN. It’s more exciting, more imaginative…again, more fun. And I would encourage more people outside the Midwest to attend this conference. The experience here is dramatically different than most conferences, and if you think that your school can handle the competitive environment, than by all means, look into attending.