Bullying and sexism unfortunately occur throughout school and in life, and Model United Nations is no exception. In this excerpt from a larger interview, Ashley Inman shares her experiences with bullying and sexism during her Model UN journey and her tips for dealing with bullying. Ashley was previously the Head Delegate at Gulf Coast High School and the University of Florida, served as a Best Delegate Media Associate, and was voted by her peers into the Best Delegate College Model UN All-Star Team as a senior in university. She nows works at the U.S. State Department.
[Ashley Inman]: I believe that I have such a uniquely personal relationship with Model United Nations because of issues I faced in it and how I learned to surmount them. Its professional and academic benefits are almost endless; but I believe the true reason MUN develops its participants into the leaders of the future is because it teaches us how to learn, understand, and broaden our perspectives. Model UN has taught me – as it has taught so many others – how to be comfortable in your own skin by identifying your weaknesses and embracing your strengths; to accept who you are, and face the obstacles that life throws your way head-on.
Bullying Happens in Model UN
Unfortunately, I had to learn this lesson because of some of the negative experiences I had on the circuit. Model UN is an incredible institution, but once it becomes focused on competition instead of collaboration, a very specific type of personality emerges, and it is not always kind. I’m not alone in experiencing this, and I know how damaging it can be to delegates; I’ve seen far too many fantastic members leave the circuit because of it. Personally, I faced bullying and sexism frequently, and more often than not, the two were not mutually exclusive. The bullying women face is often rooted in sexism, and the latter is far too deeply entrenched in society to be overcome by one person.
Unfortunately, bullying happens, and there’s not much you can do to prevent it – but you can respond to it. To do so, a good first step is understanding the motivation of this behavior: that it is not about you. Realize that others will put you down because they are trying to make up for their own insecurities. These people believe the easiest way to feel empowered is to make others feel smaller. Understanding that motivation, and why these individuals thrive on cruelty, can help you determine the best way to approach the situation – and can also help your own personal solace, knowing that their bullying is not about you.
How to Deal with Bullies at a Model UN Conference
If facing the issue in the committee room, don’t react. When certain delegates are threatened by your success, they will often employ a strategy against you to damage your reputation in the eyes of the Chair. When the staff is not paying attention or is out of earshot, the delegate will be as incendiary as possible, while being careful not to cross any major lines, to increasingly aggravate you over the course of debate. You have probably experienced this before: a few casual put-downs about how your directive titles aren’t funny, a delegate moving your bag to the back of the room after you set it down in the front, a pejorative but “lighthearted” comment about how you are off-policy – but never enough where you could respond (or God forbid, Right of Reply) without appearing to overreact. Their goal is that eventually, they will provoke you enough to garner a reaction, which will appear overblown in front of the Chair and the committee, who has not seen your bully’s aggression leading up to this point.
To address a committee bully, remember this: you only have to deal with this person for three or four days. Swallow your frustration, channel it into your debate, and know that the diplomacy you’re exhibiting will win you more points, both in the committee and in the long run of life. Your committee bully, on the other hand, will find that sooner or later, their behavior will come back to haunt them. That said, if lines are crossed or this behavior becomes too severe, do not hesitate to report the behavior to the conference staff or to your Head Delegate. While assault and bullying are two separate things, if this behavior goes too far – including at social events – it needs to be reported.
How to Deal with Bullies within Your Model UN Club
If facing a bully in your school or university’s club, the issue can be harder to deal with. Since you’re both members of MUN, you most likely share friends, which can make you reluctant to address the issue and make waves in a tightknit community. Because of this, one course of action is to simply shrug it off and to separate yourself as much as possible from the behavior. There’s no shame in unfollowing someone on social media, or not wanting to staff the committee of someone whose behavior makes you uncomfortable. Bullies thrive on confrontation, and ignoring their provocations will reinforce to them that they will not obtain the response that they’re seeking from you.
That said, separation is not always an acceptable route for everyone, especially small schools or those who are on the executive board with their bully. Remember: you are not obligated to tolerate aggression just because the person is friends with your friends, even if you feel social pressure to endure them. In these cases, finding a way to diplomatically but firmly confront your bully is appropriate. Without provoking them, find a way to sit them down privately and discuss what issues you have with their behavior. Question their motives; in this way, you put them on the defensive and force them to reflect on their actions. Being able to discuss an issue as equals can foster mutual respect, and as any MUN delegate knows, effective communication can solve (almost) any problem.
Each Bullying Situation is Unique
Of course, just like each delegate’s method in committee is unique, everyone’s way of handling their bully may be different as well. In my case, none of these routes worked. Instead, I did something different: I embraced it. When other delegates condescendingly referred to me as “Delegate Barbie” (“gavel included, not sold separately!”), I adopted it as an identity and turned it into a joke that instead, I was in on. I bought a pink suit, and pink legal pads, and pink gel pens, and instead of being angry, I channeled my feelings into my performance in committee, ensuring that the gavel was, in fact, included.
When facing the aggression and bullying that can appear in Model UN, the most important thing to remember is that it is not a reflection on you. You do not need to apologize for who you are. When you are representing a new country, or a new person, or even a new President, the most important thing to learn is how to represent yourself.