This guest article was written by Rory Mondshein from Bard College MUN.
In Model UN, we work to solve most of the pressing problems of our time, creating a better world. In committee, we condemn human rights violations and publicly condemn governments that reject “the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” (United Nations Declaration of Human Rights). In committee, we refuse to be bystanders because we fear the ramifications of idle chatter and inaction. Yet, when the lights go out for the final session, does our behavior parallel the ones we publicly presented? There appears to be a disconnect between the way we present ourselves in committee, and our everyday practices: we are quick to speak out against power imbalances and unfair treatment in a simulation, but we are reluctant to extend that courtesy to our fellow delegates in the face of a more minor form of injustice — bullying.
According to the International Bullying Association, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include: An Imbalance of Power . . .[and] Repetition.” (Stop Bullying World). Bullying relates to many of the subjects we cover in Model UN because studies show that it is correlated with a number of global issues, including juvenile delinquency, gang violence, and youth mortality. It manifests itself in many areas, including schools, the workplace, and even in Model UN.
In Model UN, we emphasize the detriment of power imbalances in relation to repeated government abuses. Similarly, bullying refers to power plays on the micro-sociological level. We can draw many parallels between the macro-level and the micro-level. We focus a lot on global injustices, but are too afraid to speak out when it happens right in front of our faces. We feel empowered to stand up for Syrian citizens whose rights are being stricken by vituperative governments, but we are silent when our fellow class or teammate’s sense of personhood is being compromised by a belligerent bully. It is time for delegates to apply their Model UN experiences to a different forum, and stand up against bullying both in school and in Model UN.
Because of the media, today the word “bully” invokes an image of a physically strong student that pilfers lunch money. We have operationalized our conception of bullying to meet this definition. However, that would be overlooking the many other forms that bullying has. Bullying can be as subtle as a white lie meant to throw you off, or as obvious as plagiarizing policy proposals or a gender-divided bloc (“Stereotypes and the Gender Divide in Model UN”). Although some are surprised that such behavior exists in Model UN, it is no surprise that a fairly competitive activity attracts quite a few people that will do anything to win.
There are many ways that bullying can manifest itself in Model UN: a delegate could attempt to deter you from your main goal; act condescendingly to you; plagiarize your resolution; and, worst of all, take measures to lower your self-esteem for their own interest. Oftentimes these actions can be a deterrent for new delegates, and detract from your Model UN experience, but it is important to address them in order to enhance your experience, help other delegates, and protect the values of Model UN:
(1) Bullying at Conferences
If you are finding that a delegate is belligerently bullying you at a conference, there are many different ways to go about it: some delegates ignore it whereas others make a big spectacle out of it. However, it is important to find a middle ground between these two polar opposites, and use your Model UN skills to address this issue.
In order to ameliorate the bullying, it is important to take the delegate to the side, and ask for just a few minutes of their time. If they say that it is a bad time, wait about a half hour and then pursue it again. In the meantime, focus on your work in the conference. It is crucial that you do not make a big spectacle out of it because it can lead to retaliatory behavior. Do not embarrass the delegate, and, instead, bring it up in the most amiable manner possible. Try to use the words such as, “I feel” as much as possible because, while the delegate can get defensive with generalizations, s/he cannot question the veracity of your feelings. Speak for yourself and do not try to be the voice of the entire committee, even if they bring it up to you first, because then the delegate could feel isolated and retaliate with even more belligerent behavior. Respectfully bring it to their attention, and intervene before the situation escalates.
If you find that the situation has escalated, talk to the delegate again. This time, you can be a little more stern, but still diplomatic. If you are finding that your conversations have not resonated with him/her, it may be time to find another way to address it. If you know that other delegates share your sentiments, talk to your chair about the problem before going to your head delegate. Emphasize that you have spoken to this delegate multiple times to no avail, and ask what can be done about it. Do not offer solutions of your own because that can appear hostile; instead, listen to what they have to say, and leave it in their hands. Do not talk about it with other delegates, and let the proper channels address it.
If you are still finding that the delegate is acting belligerent even after talking to him/her and the chair, ask the chair what has been done. If you are finding this answer unsatisfactory, it is time to talk to your head delegate. Head delegates are appointed to deal with these issues, and enhance your Model UN experience. Tell the head delegate about everything you have done, and request that they talk to the conference directors. Do not feel guilty about making your chair look ineffective because, the truth is, chairs only have so much power, and, if this is a repeated problem, it may be an issue that only a conference director can deal with. Do not feel like a nuisance for bringing it up, and understand that the conference directors are there to enhance your Model UN experience and, if that is being compromised, it is up to you to address it.
(2) Bullying on Teams
In my opinion, the worst kind of bullying happens between teammates. While conference bullying lasts a maximum of four days, team bullying can last for an entire year. Unlike four-day conferences, teammates are forced to work with each other for the entire year.
Unlike conferences, team bullying takes a different form. It can start out with rumors, and then take a more obvious form with outright belligerence. When an individual gets more and more successful, they can get the sense that they are better than everyone else and express these sentiments through diva-like behavior. They can intimidate new members, isolate themselves from the team, and even, directly bully everyone else. This behavior is quite common in team settings, and here are some ways to deal with it.
(A) For Students
Delegates, if you feel like one of your teammates is bullying you, respectfully take them on the side and talk to them about how you feel. Remember to frame the issue in the first-person pronoun so that the other delegate does not get defensive. Assure them that it is not them, and that it is just the way that they are coming across. Afterwards, be patient and see if there are any changes.
If there are no changes, try talking to the delegate again and see where they stand. If you are finding that your talk is ineffective, talk to your club head or faculty adviser about intervening in the situation. Mention that you have spoken to the delegate, and tried to resolve it one-on-one, but that, perhaps, the situation requires a mediated session. If you find that other delegates feel this way, explain that to your club heads and faculty advisers. Ask them what can be done about the situation to improve your Model UN experience.
When you are sitting down with your faculty adviser, talk about the importance of making every delegate feel comfortable, and the long-term interests of the club. Explain that tolerating bullying would negatively affect membership, and that could compromise the strength of the club and completely destroy the team. After you have made your point, do not offer your own suggestions for punishment; just listen to what the adviser has to say.
A common answer that advisers give is that they “did not see anything.” If your adviser says this, give them time to observe the situation. Just because they say that “they do not see anything” does not mean that they doubt you, but, instead, they want to wait to take action. If the situation escalates, go back to them and keep them informed.
If your adviser gets defensive, it could be because they do not know how to deal with the situation. If you are finding yourself in this predicament, then just carefully remind them about the importance of addressing bullying, and suggest that the club introduce an anti-bullying clause in the charter. If your adviser dismisses that, it could be because they do not want to admit that there is bullying. I encourage you to keep speaking up about it anyway. If other delegates feel this way, encourage them to speak up too, and remind them that their voices matter. Even if no one is listening, speak up and make your voice heard, even if it means using unconventional tactics, like explaining it with a puppet show or song. The only way to solve a problem is to talk about it.
(B) For Faculty.
Admitting that your team has a bullying problem is tough and disheartening, but it must be done to properly help your students. The truth is, the word is highly stigmatized. However, it is not your fault, and tons of teams go through it. It is no surprise that a competitive activity has a little bit of bullying in it. However, if a delegate is coming to you about bullying behaviors, you need to be there to address it because a positive delegate experience is the key to long-term success.
If a delegate is telling you about bullying, the best thing you can do is to let them know that you care, and make them feel comfortable for coming to you. It is not easy for students to come to teachers about these kinds of things because of overwhelming anxiety about “snitching.” If they do talk to you, it is a big deal, and it is important for you to treat it as such. Let the delegate know that you are there for them.
When the delegate approaches you, listen to their story. Do not cut them off, and do not make assumptions. Just listen with an open mind. Sometimes, we get defensive when we do not feel like we have the right response, but I encourage you to try not to be. The truth is, no one expects you to have all of the answers, but we do expect you to care enough to listen.
If you are not convinced of the bullying in your club, then, perhaps, you do not have to take direct action. There are many alternatives to direct confrontation. One of my favorite solutions is including an anti-bullying clause in club charters. The anti-bullying clause would define bullying, and serve as tangible proof that bullying is not tolerated. If delegates come together to write the clause, they will be more likely to abide by it. The anti-bullying clause solution is the middle ground between too much action and inaction because it resolves bullying without direct confrontation and sends a message to delegates.
All in All:
There are many wonderful people in the Model UN community actively working to make a difference; however, like with every competitive activity, there are always a few participants that take it too far and negatively impact others’ experiences. I hope this article does not bring about a negative connotation with Model UN, but open up a discussion about how we can use our Model UN experiences to combat the bullying within it.
1. International Bullying Association. “About.” 2013. http://www.stopbullyingworld.org/index.php/about-ibpa-28 [accessed 29 April 2014].
2. UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948, 217 A (III), available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3712c.html [accessed 13 June 2014] 3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “What is Bullying?” Stop Bullying. http://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/index.html. [accessed 29 April 2014]