Does is matter where a delegate sits in a Model UN committee? This is a question that popped up recently in my work with Model UN delegates at the basic school level. Reflecting on my own ten years of Model UN experience (as a delegate, staff and faculty advisor) has raised some questions in me about the significance of where a delegate sits in a Model UN committee. For those who may be new to Model UN, it is common practice, prior to most middle school Model UN conferences, that the Secretary-General of the conference picks the country of choice to sit in the first seat of the front row and the others follow in alphabetical order (similar to the real UN protocol).
My impression, both as a delegate and a member of the dais, is that it is relevant where delegates were seated in the committee. For most conferences, we oftentimes hear delegates complaining that they were never called by the dais and that they did not benefit much from the experience. For such delegates who would want to improve their participation in future conferences, this article will provide an insight into why some of these problems arise. For conference organizers, we are always eager to give our delegates the best Model UN experience as possible. We try to train our committee staff to be widely inclusive in their efforts to engage students in the committee. For teachers, faculty advisers and parents, we want our wards to benefit fully from their Model UN experience. For all these categories of people, this article is aimed at applying some expert-shared opinion about sitting positions in a classroom and their impact on grades, to the model UN setting, bearing in mind the theater and classroom style sitting arrangements; which are the most common for MUN committees.
The front row seats
Dr. Chris Hammons says: “I notice the more prepared and personable students sit in front rows”. My focus here is on the word “personable”. Most members of the dais would agree with the idea that the first countries you tend to notice when you sit on the platform are the ones lined up in front. We form a pleasant impression about the delegates in the front row seat and have a personal interest in their presence in the committee. For instance, if you decided to give a welcome handshake to delegates, they are likely to be the beneficiaries. We have a one on one connection with them and if that delegate is absent from committee for any reason, it is noticed; consciously or sub-consciously. With that basis, they are likely the countries that stick in our memory.
A delegate might say “if my country is easily remembered, then that’s a positive thing isn’t it?” Well, you might say so, but my experience on the dais has shown that, in the dais’s attempt to avoid bias, chairs tend to focus away from the delegates in the front row seats to reduce favoritism. So it is very common to hear delegates who sit close to the dais complain that they felt the dais did not recognize them enough. Sitting in the front also puts you in the ‘pinned’ situation; especially because every action you take can be noticed by the dais, including some of the informal giggles at that funny delegate. Hence based on a recommendation by Dr. Paul Adams, if a Model UN faculty adviser is thinking about how to seat Model UN club members in school, it may be helpful to locate shy, timid students who have trouble paying attention in class in the front row seats.
The middle seats
The occupants of the middle seats in a Model UN committee are probably the most focused on during a committee session. As I have hinted earlier, when the dais sits, the trajectory of their vision is thrown straight into the middle of the room. They may not specifically notice the countries or the faces behind the placards clustered in the middle seats, but they definitely would see a placard that gets raised in that arena, especially in the center, even when they are not looking that way. For this reason, even though I agree with education experts like Dr. Robert Wallace, a member of the National Education Association, who considers sitting in the middle of the classroom one of the worst decisions a student can make in a classroom, from the Model UN point of view, I think it is the best luck for that delegate who wants to be acknowledged to speak very often. I bet that most of delegates who lead caucuses, present draft resolutions and win awards are babies of the middle seats.
The back seats
I think that in many classroom settings, students who sit at the back are perceived as the dull, noisemakers who are surrounded by a lot of distractions. And for those who have a lot of experience as delegates, they would admit that a lot of things happen at the back during a Model UN session that are either not allowed in committee or are not constructive and critical to the committee process. They include chatting on social media, messaging friends or having a conversation that distracts from the process. Aside from these, delegates at the back may be unlucky if there is no PA system in the room when the committee is large and may probably be cut out from communication in the room. Most members of the dais would agree that they acknowledge those at the back mostly in an attempt to avoid bias in their call out of countries; hence it becomes an exception rather than the norm for a delegate at the back to be called. In the trade of Model UN however, it is not all gloomy for ‘back seaters’. There is a lot of freedom at the back to do the things that the ‘pinned front seaters’ can’t do. You can pass notes, confer about a statement, leave easily for the washroom without attracting attention and you are able to get a clearer picture of the action in committee; making it the ideal place for say, a delegate journalist.
In summary, I acknowledge that delegates’ performance is significantly dependent on their own skills and effort in committee. Nevertheless, it is important to note that where they sit also has significant bearing on how they get involved. It is my opinion that the priority order of the front, middle, back seats in the classroom is slightly altered in the Model UN committee setting (middle, front, back). For faculty advisers, this may prompt us to carefully evaluate how we seat the students in our Model UN club in school. For members of the dais (and conference organizers), it may be time to start thinking about how we court inclusion from all quarters of the committee room (including the ‘wild’ idea of methodically rotating seats across conference days). Finally for my dear delegates, you need to be mindful of the pros and cons of where you find yourself sitting in committee, try to overcome the disadvantages and make the most of the advantages to become a better delegate. All the best.