Almost 1,000 suit-clad high schoolers came to campus this weekend, participating in the 19th annual Brown University Simulation of the United Nations. The conference, which began Friday and ended Sunday, was the largest BUSUN conference yet with about 950 students from across the United States and the world in attendance. Students hailed from countries including South Korea, Honduras, the United Kingdom and India.
The conference kicked off with its opening ceremony Friday, during which J. Brian Atwood, senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, gave a keynote address entitled “The United Nations: As Effective as its Member States Wish It To Be.” In his address Atwood challenged students to reshape the way the United Nations works.
“We have a United Nations that lacks information and lacks initiative,” Atwood said. “Now you decide. Use this conference to shape your world view.”
This year’s conference theme was “Transformative Technology,” which BUSUN coordinators incorporated into many committees. Committees taking place in present day included the board of directors at Uber, as well as commissions on science, technology and development. While some committees debated modern-day medical advances, other committees simulated historical developments such as the Council of Nicaea, the troubles of Hispaniola and the 30 Years’ War.
“These are such enriching explorations of these events that are not replicated at other conferences,” said Topher Mykolyk, a high school adviser from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. “My entire delegation is having a great time. They are abuzz every time we reconvene.”
Delegate Jack Dahill of New Canaan High School said his committee on the 30 Years’ War “weaponized the plague” by throwing dead bodies at the walls of their enemies. “I like the theme of tech. I personally like looking at history though different lenses, and being able to look through the lens of tech is really cool,” Dahill said.
The conference was led by the 12-member secretariat that has been working since the end of last year’s conference in November to make this year’s conference a reality. “It’s basically the size of (A Day on College Hill )with a 12-person committee and no support from the administration,” said Steven Brownstone ’16, co-secretary general. “A lot of Google documents and late meetings went into this.” The BUSUN secretariat recruited about 50 Brown students during the spring semester to chair committees. Each chair wrote 10- to 12-page background guides over the summer in preparation for their committees.
High school attendees also spoke of the level of preparation that went into the event and the fast pace of the event. “We get back to our hotel rooms at midnight and then are up debating for nine hours,” said Alice Westerman of the New York City Lab School for Collaborative Studies. “The high energy and thoughtfulness is difficult to maintain, but it’s definitely worth it.”
The 950 high school students were spread out over 41 committees, each with their own chair or co-chairs. Unlike other Model United Nations conferences that can have committees of hundreds of delegates, the largest committee at BUSUN was 45 students. “It’s something we’re very proud of. BUSUN is known for having a personal touch,” said Zoe Greenburg ’16, director of general committees. “The chairs read every position individually, and the chairs make one-on-one connections with the delegates.”
“In smaller committees, you have the luxury of circumventing and bending the rules when necessary,” said Barry Thrasher ’18, who chaired the 30 Years’ War committee. “We can also encourage some people to talk. Everyone who was in that room was selected by the chair, and their fictional personalities and backgrounds were crafted by the chair so that each of them would have a voice in the room.”
Along with its personal touch, BUSUN emphasizes the educational aspect of the conference over the competitive aspect. BUSUN volunteers ran trainings for new delegates on Friday and allowed participants to attend classes in several departments such as economics and history.
“We focus on the individual delegate experience and pride ourselves on more of an educational experience. There are a lot of first-time delegates, and there are committees for all skill levels to get kids excited about Model UN in general,” Greenburg said.
BUSUN not only allowed people to participate in Model United Nations but also gave high school students a taste of life on College Hill. “This is a lot of people’s first experience with Brown, and in a different way we’re reaching out to prospective Brown students,” Brownstone said. “It’s interesting how many chairs and directors participated in BUSUN while they were in high school. That lineage is really cool.”
“This conference stands apart because of how interesting the topics are, the high amount of research you should do and the advanced level of the delegates,” said first-time BUSUN delegate Samer Yacaman of the Escuela Internacional Sampedrana in Honduras. “Being at Brown makes it extra special.”