Using Your Liberal Arts Education in Model UN

by Logan Park on January 19, 2014

This is an guest article written by Rory P. Mondshein from the Bard College.

If your college is anything like Bard, Model UN is not a popular club on campus. In fact, I’ve heard people say that Model UN is “too establishmentarian,” or “ too blasé” for them to be part of it. Last year, Bard Model UN was on the verge of collapse due to a lack of interest in the program. While I was recruiting people, I noticed that there were a lot of misconceptions about Model UN, like that it is mainly for Political Science majors and that it is not relevant to liberal arts schools, which may have contributed to the lack of interest in the program. Thus, I feel obligated to clear up these misconceptions, and explain the areas where a liberal arts education can come in handy in Model U.N. 

Delegates at Bard College, a small liberal arts school in upstate New York, use their  liberal arts education to deconstruct crises in their North Korea: 2040 simulation.

Delegates at Bard College, a small liberal arts school in upstate New York, use their
liberal arts education to deconstruct crises in their North Korea: 2040 simulation.


1.  Deconstructing the Problem

A liberal arts education teaches you how to think about the world by asking questions. In liberal arts colleges, students are emboldened to challenge and question conventional practices. Students are encouraged to look at the world — not only as it is, but why it is this way it is, and see the world as it can be. In Model UN, we also discuss the current state of affairs, and hypothesize how we can make it better; however, we don’t always focus on why we are facing these problems in the first place, and that is where we can and should use the liberal arts approach. By using the liberal arts approach, we study the different variables, and their relationships in order to see the problem in a different way.

Here is the liberal arts problem solving formula in a nutshell: think about the problem in terms of a dependent variable, use the different disciplines as independent variables, and just play with different bivariate and multivariate analyses. The possibilities are endless: you can look at a problem through a sociological perspective, study the ways that different social groups interact with one another, and see how that creates certain political conditions; you can use cinema verité as a metaphor for understanding the macro and micro level aspects to the problem; you can use that Sex, Power, and Politics class to do a gendered reading of the problem — it’s amazing how much you can use your diverse background to understand the problem in a different way.


 2.  Articulation

If you’re in a liberal arts college like mine, you’ve probably had at least one socratic seminar with about eight people in it, and deconstructed a text until you were blue in the face. In fact, you probably had a long debate over the author’s purpose, or even the implications of a particular punctuation mark against a self-proclaimed bibliophile. Yeah, it’s a pretty standard experience for liberal arts students. However, it is very valuable  and germane to Model UN because, while you were debating Marcel Proust’s excessive colon usage in Remembrance of Things Past against a “prodigious Proustophile,” you structured your argument to incorporate a hook, point, and an action.

The Hook, Point, Action (HPA) structure also applies to arguments in Model UN: delegates use a hook to get the audience’s attention (and wake up the sleeping delegate in the back); they make a point to contribute to the debate; and use actions to explain what they want others to do about it. If you can do it in the classroom, then you can surely do it in Model UN because it is just the same formula in a different context.


 3.  Developing and Writing Solutions

The liberal arts education manifests itself in Model UN in the areas of problem solving and resolution writing. In the liberal arts, we spend a lot of time deconstructing problems (see point one), and even more time doing close readings and analysis to understand why things are the way they are. We look at sentence structure, punctuation, and more to see how each element contributes to to the big picture, which can be extremely helpful for delegates: not only can delegates improve their writing, but they can also understand the implications of it.

Sure, it may seem pedantic to focus on every single word or punctuation mark, but, honestly, it is important. If you are a delegate to the United Nations, you are responsible for developing comprehensive solutions to real problems, and solidify it in the form of resolutions. In other words, you’re responsible for creating an all-encompassing document that nations will sign, and respect for years to come; however, what will that document mean in the future? Words change over time, and, consequently, our relationship to these words change.  to the point where today’s resolutions may mean something different many years from now. Take the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), for example, and the ways different nations have reacted to it: some nations, like the United States, believe that it limits nuclear weapons; others, like Iran, believe that the NPT allows them to mass produce weapons. The NPT is just one example of the many issues nations have with the ambiguity latent in resolutions and treaties, which nations are expected to abide by regardless of whether or not it is clear.

Use the skills you gained in LIT 101 to make your resolutions as clear as possible: focus on that one word and ask what its implications are; and ask how that comma contributes to or changes the meaning of the sentence. comma and what that comma will mean many years from now. After all, you’re writing resolutions that will last in perpetuity, so do a close reading and ask yourself how future generations will view it — and watch out for that Oxford comma.

Take the knowledge you gained in “Introduction to Philosophy,” and debate the structure of the resolution. Ask yourselves: is it better to strictly define your clauses to make them clear; or should they be ambiguous so they can last in perpetuity? Think about examples of countries that have debated over their legal structures, and you can really delve deep into some of today’s biggest issues.

From there, you can study the history of the problem and how the media has framed it, and see how that has affected public opinion — or anything, really.  Once you have the ability to connect ideas, the possibilities are endless. Maybe you’ll develop some crazy ideas, like True Life: Al-Shabaab to bring business to Somalia based off an economics class you took, or Big Brother: Dictators Edition to get rogue leaders to admit to war crimes on camera after watching reality television for too long, or something even more out of the box. The point is, you can use your liberal arts education to make these endless connections to really get a well-rounded view of the problem, and, more importantly, the different ways you can solve it.

However, while liberal arts students do this on a daily basis, you don’t need to be a liberal arts student to think like a liberal arts student; you just need to connect ideas and variables to paint a better picture of the current climate, and the real problems so that you can work towards ameliorating/resolving it.


All in all…

Model U.N. is all about developing comprehensive solutions to today’s most pressing problems, and the liberal arts approach just gives delegates a different way of understanding the problems, which can be extremely advantageous in a world plagued by problems and very few solutions.

  • pajriiiin

    i’m agree with liberal education, but if we stay in a country is follow democration system it must be not allowed by goverment, althought liberal art education many benefit such as we emboldened to challenge and question conventional practices.
    and i have some question to the delegates, if we see our climate now is bad and many disaster is happen in some country, such as italy, indonesian, philipine, etc
    real form of what you do to help resolve this problem in the form of liberal art education? and please reply as soon as possible… thank you 🙂

    • Rory Moe

      Hi, thanks for your question.

      I understand your point completely, but, right now, the liberal arts education is not unique to the United States. Bard actually has partnerships with a number of liberal arts schools around the world, including AUCA in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Smolny College in St. Petersburg Russia, ECLA in Germany, and Al Quds in Palestine. Here is an article that discusses that process in Russia:

      As for your second point, I want to be clear that the liberal arts education does not claim to solve all of the world’s problems. Instead, it gives a different mode of thinking about problems. Taking your example, the liberal arts approach would consider the effect the disaster has on the economy, politics, and study the cultural practices of that nation. We would try to study the ways governments have responded through public opinion, media, etc. By looking at these variables, we are able to get a better sense of what the problem is, and the areas that a resolution would affect.

      I hope that answers your questions, but, if not, please let me know if you have any follow ups!

Previous post:

Next post: