Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Andrew YJ Kim - Story of Us

Harvard National Model United Nations is a historic seventy-year-old student organization at Harvard College that prides itself in hosting the oldest, largest, and the most prestigious collegiate Model UN of its kind in the world every year. It is part of the International Relations Council (IRC) which oversees other programs related to international affairs on campus. Historically, HNMUN brings together over 1,500 delegates from more than 40 nations around the world for its annual session in Boston, Massachusetts in mid-February of each year. Referred to by The New York Times as the "Super Bowl of Model UN" in the collegiate world, HNMUN holds itself to a high level of substantive excellence and strives to provide a vibrant social community to all of its members. Students participating in Model UN simulate international discussions on consensus-building regarding global issues ranging from climate change to women's rights across a four-day conference, for which the staff of HNMUN, wholly composed of Harvard undergraduate students freely volunteering their time and effort, prepare in advance year-round.

History of HNMUN: Academic as well as Non-Academic 

Throughout its long history, HNMUN has greatly expanded in both size as well as scope as a student organization. Though in its original rendition, the Model UN program at Harvard had initially began as a post-First-World-War simulation of the League of Nations involving only nine colleges, it subsequently became “the be-all and end-all of [social] life at Harvard" with the conference in the 1980's becoming like “just one big party like a dorm after finals". Fellow hotel guests at the Boston Park Plaza at one point were taken back by the  "loudness, water fights, abuse of toilet paper, and general partying among the 1,700 delegates" at HNMUN, according to The Harvard Crimson
  In more recent decades however, HNMUN has become more academically rigorous. Participating schools, such as the University of Chicago, prepare extensively in preparation for the conference, with novices being required to "meet about four times a week for six weeks" in advance (NYT). It has thus been incumbent on members of HNMUN to reciprocate the level of effort and time invested by participants through through likewise extensively preparing for the conference and the topics to be discussed. As discussed below, however, the structure often lends itself to the Secretariat becoming the in-group of the organization that is responsible for the upkeep of HNMUN's day-to-day work and reputation while the rest of staff feel excluded from developing an understanding of the bigger picture for the conference. Moreover, the aforementioned social aspects of the organization combined with the academic elements of the organization lead to a variety of different types of students joining HNMUN, with some looking for a certain social experience whereas others seek pre-professional development and training. Reconciling these two, important-in-their-own-right goals proves to be a challenge every year and in maintaining a consistent and cohesive organization experience for all members involved, even for those who do not feel included in the 'in-group'.

Organizational Structure: Election, Secretariat, and Staff 

A few weeks within the conclusion of that year's conference, preparations for the next year's conference immediately commence, beginning with the election of a new Secretary-General who serves as the chief executive of the organization from the time of their election until the next election. Though the only requirement for running for Secretary-General is that they be a student who staffed the previous year's conference, candidates usually are exclusively members of the previous year's Secretariat with inside knowledge regarding the workings of the organization. Under rules of the parent organization IRC, which were recently updated in April of 2022, any member of HNMUN who has staffed the conference twice consecutively (therefore usually sophomore or older) is permitted to cast a vote during the closed ballot Secretary-General election. 
Once a Secretary-General is elected, their first task is to appoint a Secretariat that will assist in leading the conference. Each member of the Secretariat is responsible for overseeing their own department or 'organ', including those of the Director-General, Administration, Business, Finance, Operations, the General Assemblies, Economic and Social Council and Regional Bodies, and the Specialized Agencies, and are in charge of recruiting senior and junior staff for their respective organs. The experience of a club member can widely differ based on which organ they are part of and who they have as their Under-Secretary-General. Organs can be categorized into executive or substantive organs, with the executive organs overseeing the more logistical matters of conference such as printing, funding, transportation, sponsorships, and registration, while the substantive organs preside over committee debates and require more direct interactions with the participants.

Ultimately, there cannot be complete overlap in experience between the two different types of organs. After all, applicants prior to joining HNMUN take the time to discern which organ would be a better fit for them, with the experiences inherent to each organ playing a major role in determining the applicant's choice. For instance, an Assistant Director in Administration could see much more regular interactions with the rest of the organ during weekly office hours at which emails are answered and spreadsheets are made, whereas an Assistant Director for the Specialized Agencies would focus on learning the rules of procedure as well as their respective committee topic on their own time and would, for the most part, interact mainly with the two to three other members of their committee at the actual conference. Nonetheless, irrespective of the organ they are in or who they have as their USG, every HNMUN staff member deserves a substantively rewarding experience both leading up to as well as during conference. Especially coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has an opportunity to reshape the level of inclusion and learning that every member gets. Given that HNMUN like many other student organizations struggle to retain new members as they grow into upperclassmen, a special emphasis needs to be placed on proactively making members as individuals feel like they are genuinely part of an active community that appreciates their unique presence and fosters in them meaningful learning throughout their MUN career.

Further information regarding Harvard National Model UN as an organization and other affiliated IRC programs can be found at this Wikipedia page.

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