The students file into the classroom and chat amongst themselves; the Doritos bag is passed around, the Sprite is poured.
The president enters and calls attention, the UN members grow quiet, and the United Nations convenes at Leesville Road High School.
Many students go through four years at LRHS without ever noticing that a gathering of the world’s nations is going on a stone’s throw away. In fact, it’s been going on for 4 years.
On this occasion, the Model UN club was holding a two-day convention about industrialism and improving environmental regulations; the fifteen or so students shuffle notes, discuss the nations they represent, and sip their Mountain Dew as they talk over serious matters of international cooperation.
This is the nexus of high school and national representation — the meeting point of students and the most respected and esteemed communicators of the modern world. Everything is identical: the flowery language, the position of each nation, the processes involved in resolving an issue… everything except the pretzels, the Sunkist, and the lack of a fancy international meeting hall.
“What exactly do we do? We organize club conventions in which each member is assigned a country to represent in a simulated UN conference. In the conventions we will debate, propose working papers, and pass resolutions on a variety of topics,” reads the club’s Facebook page. The club has been described as “like Political Club, but formal and less antagonistic.”
The Model United Nations club has been a little-recognized club here for all of its existence, taking a back seat to other clubs, including the similar Political Club. And right now, the club is regrowing its membership base from the bottom up: The vast majority of its members are newcomers, many sophomores. After graduating nearly ten seniors in 2010, including all officers and most of the club’s population, Model UN was left to start practically from scratch.
“This is my second year [as Model UN advisor],” said Nancy Mosley, the club’s advisor, who shared the role with Zora Felton last year. “Everyone leaving at the same time — I think it’s been productive. The club can learn about the process, and I can learn with them.”
“Last year, we stepped up our recruitment efforts by stopping by classrooms and talking to students, particularly those involving underclassmen who would be able to stay active for a few years,” said Jimmy Wei, Model UN president before his 2010 graduation. “We also tried to make a name for ourselves through word of mouth and through creative PA announcements.”
“Last year, there was more organization,” observed Tyler Glass, a junior who is Model UN’s vice president. “There’s still a learning curve going on now. Conventions were much better organized [under the Wei administration] than they are now.”
But, for Model UN members, it’s clear that this “learning curve” is the driving force behind the program’s new steps towards relevance.
“After we [the Class of 2010] graduated, every single officer left, leaving the club with no leadership. Erica [Lee, current president] has got to step it up and make sure the club runs well,” Wei prescribed. “She particularly has to be able to commit to the club and make sure that she keeps things running smoothly.”
“[The transition] is not difficult – it’s just confusing,” said Erica Lee, Model UN president. “The officers all graduated, and I’m only a sophomore and serving as president. Of course, I’m somewhat unfamiliar with the way things run, because I only have one year of experience as a member.”
A large part of bringing an under-appreciated club to prominence is the process of recruiting new members — something Model UN has sorely needed for the last few years. “I joined Model UN because it’s fun – it’s not boring like other clubs,” proclaimed Spenser Rose, sophomore. Not all potential participants are so easy to attract.
“Erica’s my friend – at first I came to meetings on request to be nice, but then I came to like it because I see myself as ignorant in worldly matters,” said Shayaan Sarfraz, sophomore. “I wanted to educate myself. This can be such a great learning experience.”
“Ignorance in worldly matters” helped Sarfraz become attached to the club he now regularly participates in. It almost feels that normally, this attitude is what would drive someone away from a club like Model UN. Many who currently consider themselves members were asked to join by Lee, and subsequently continued to attend.
One of the biggest steps that the club could take is on one of North Carolina’s largest stages for Model UN — the annual convention held at UNC-CH called “Model United Nations at Chapel Hill,” known more commonly as MUNCH.
“We’ll be one of the more youthful clubs [at MUNCH],” Glass noted, recognizing the coming challenge. “We have to try to be one of the most prepared. We need to show it with the confidence we exude when we’re speaking.”
“If we go to MUNCH and prove ourselves by being a unified group and stating our position successfully, it shows a lot of progress,” summarized Lee.
With MUNCH marked on the calendar and a solid base of young and enthusiastic members, Model UN has a lot to look forward to at Leesville that it hasn’t experienced before.
The representative from India proposes a resolution that would cap global emissions limits, and the sheet of paper takes signatures. Delegations representing Russia and Germany suggest their changes, and the United Kingdom proposes an alteration.
President Lee just smiles and watches as the nations of the world work together.