Berkeley Model United Nations (BMUN) held its 61st session this past weekend on the UC Berkeley campus. BMUN can certainly claim a lot of superlatives or accolades: oldest continuous conference in the world, largest and most competitive conference West of the Mississippi River, and the largest conference held on a university campus with a record 1,800 delegates. Although these statements are true, they do not begin to tell the full story of what BMUN really is or is about to become. That’s because two bigger storylines stole the show this past weekend.
First, BMUN is embarking on a transformation into a true teaching conference. A lot of conferences claim to be educational or focus on education, but BMUN actually takes this seriously but applying a pedagogical perspective to their conference and training their staff to be active teachers. The best example is the Pyramid Curriculum that is designed to check for understanding in three phases: what is the core issue, how can nations address it, and how feasible are the solutions. Most students experience a disconnect in the third phase, so BMUN built in a required 30-minute feedback session on Saturday afternoon across all committees for chairs to take a step back and provide feedback on the feasibility of the solutions being proposed in committee. All chairs are active teachers — no other conference in the world does this.
I also observed other examples of teaching in action. In the United Nations Human Rights Council, the chairs brought in delegates from SOCHUM via Skype to provide a different perspective on a topic that was very helpful in getting UNHRC delegates to think about solutions that they hadn’t thought up of yet (I heard the same happened between DISC and SPD). In the Press Corps, the staff challenged the delegates to go beyond just writing articles by throwing crises and substantive topics related to the world of journalism including the rescuing of journalists from war zones and the ethics of starting a war through the press. And when an inappropriate note was found in SOCHUM, the chair called it out as unacceptable and explained why sexist notes will not be tolerated — this was a great teaching moment and much better handled than most conferences that don’t catch these notes, don’t take action, or at most make generic announcements banning notes without teaching better behavior.
Advisors have noted that BMUN has sent staffers to Teach for America before and have a very good and active Outreach Program that features a strong curriculum which USG of Outreach Avik Chakravarty presented on during a special advisors meeting. These traits are further strengthened this year as Secretary-General Ginny Sklar will also be entering Teach for America after graduation and advisors have noted that the BMUN staff has bought into the educational focus of the conference.
Second, BMUN received enormous praise for the quality of its conference this year. I’ll directly quote or paraphrase three faculty advisors as examples:
“Ginny (the Secretary-General) ran a phenomenal conference. This is the best BMUN I have been to in the last twenty years that I have been attending.”
“BMUN implemented a lot of great ideas that were brought up last year. You don’t usually see conferences actually listen to feedback and remember to make improvements the following year.”
“You can clearly tell the BMUN staff was well-trained, prepared, and knowledgeable about their topics. We need more conferences to deliver the quality that BMUN does.”
Besides the positive feedback from the faculty advisors, I noticed that the chairs were very engaged with committee and that all dais members were well trained so that there was no drop-off in quality whenever vice chairs took over the moderating duties. All of the staff was very professional in their customer service and took the time to introduce themselves to faculty advisors and guests who walked into committee (I can only think of one other conference that does this). Even registration received praise for being the smoothest registration that advisors have ever been through.
Although laptops aren’t allowed in committee, technology does play key roles at BMUN. As an all-green conference, all resolutions are typed by the staff and projected on screens for delegates to see. Reusable bags are used in place of boxes as another example of going green. BMUN uses a shared Google Doc among the staff so that feedback is immediately communicated before there is even an advisors meeting or staff meeting. All the qualities from the last two paragraphs helped make BMUN a gold standard conference this year.
Closing Ceremonies was held at a new venue, but that fortunately did not stop BMUN’s unique tradition of having committees select one of their peers to be a Rapporteur and give a speech or a committee report in front of everyone at Closing Plenary. The Rapporteur speeches were the usual mix of serious and thankful reports and the hilarious and creative performances. Several Rapporteurs sang, rapped, and/or beatboxed, and one Rapporteur even did a backflip!
Individual and delegation awards (listed below) were given out and the entire Closing Ceremonies was presided by BMUN alumnus Mike Foulkes who is now a State & Local Government Director at Apple. Afterward, BMUN LXI Secretary-General Ginny Sklar delivered her closing remarks and announced that Megan Kang will serve as Secretary-General of BMUN LXII.
Best Class Delegations:
- Cerritos High School (California)
- Huntington Beach High School (California)
- Mira Costa High School (California)
Best Club Delegations:
- California High School (California)
- Henry M. Gunn High School (California)
- St. Ignatius College Prep (Illinois)
Best New Delegation:
- Aitchison College (Pakistan)
Analysis: Southern California class programs Cerritos, Huntington Beach, and Mira Costa continued their Best Class Delegation award winning streaks at BMUN. Northern California rivals Gunn and Cal High both received the Best Club Delegation, and St. Ignatius is now two for two at BMUN. Aitchison College is a well-known team from Pakistan and brought a small team that saw every delegate win an award en route to the Best New Delegation. It’s notable that several teams split their delegations this past weekend at both BMUN and NHSMUN. Cerritos and Mira Costa also won delegation awards at NHSMUN while Northgate High School won a delegation award at NHSMUN and participated at BMUN.
Congrats to all the delegates on a successful and fun weekend! And congrats again to the BMUN staff for running a phenomenal conference! This was actually my first time back at BMUN since I was a high school senior almost a decade ago — it was great to meet everyone and I appreciate all the hospitality from the staff. Hopefully I’ll get to work with a few of you at one of our Summer Programs!