The Crucial Role of Civil Society and Media in Global Policymaking

Pace Univeristy New York City student Michelle Gallo makes the case for Amnesty International in a simulation of the UN Human Rights Council at the 2013 UN University for Peace Model UN Conference in Costa Rica. Photo by Jehun Alexander Hong, UPMUNC Media, used with permission.

Award-winning Pace University New York City student Michelle Gallo makes the case for Amnesty International in a simulation of the UN Human Rights Council at the 2013 UN University for Peace Model UN Conference in Costa Rica. Photo by Jehun Alexander Hong, UPMUNC Media, used with permission.

Model United Nations conferences, in which students engage in simulations of global policymaking bodies, have a tendency to toward “state-centrism.” In most conferences, students represent UN member states, and unlike real world policy processes, they are not called to account for their actions by reporters, activists and issue advocates. Social movements, religious groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the media are usually absent from the simulation.

Earlier this month, however, Pace University New York City student Michelle Gallo ’13 was given the “Civil Society Award” for her representation of Amnesty International in a simulation of the UN Human Rights Council at the 2013 UN University for Peace Model UN Conference in Costa Rica. The UPeace conference is unusual in that in addition to UN member states, it also has students representing humanitarian and human rights NGOs.

“The world has changed greatly over the past few decades, with one of the main achievements being the rapid pace of communication and increased levels of connectedness between states and peoples,” said Michelle, an honors student and political science major, peace and justice studies minor. “As a result, NGOs are playing a more important role in the response to global problems.”

The UPeace simulation also had students playing the role of broadcast, print and web media professionals, who interviewed conference delegates on their positions, questioned them in press conferences and had to file by specific deadlines. Kimberly Alonso ’13, communication studies major, with a minor in political science, from Springfield, New Jersey, played the role of a Huffington Post reporter. You can read all her articles from the conference here.

“Being a journalist in a Model UN simulation was a new and challenging experience, though also my favorite part of  the conference,” said Kimberly, a head delegate of the Pace University New York City Model United Nations program. “I enjoyed watching delegates respond to the news stories and adapt their strategies to each news update. Some delegates would seek me out to tell me their whole story, while others ran away from me!”

Kimberly brought to the conference a range of experiences in the policy and media world. She is a student assistant for Pace University Educational Media Services, has been a press office intern for the New York City public advocate Bill DeBlasio as well as a social media intern for Bigfoot Communications.

“Instead of trying to get policy across, I had to report the work of others,” said Kimberly, who has participated in Model UN conferences in Geneva, New York, Philadelphia and in Washington DC, where she was part of represented the Philippines at a delegation that received an “Honorable Mention” award. “My breaking news could change the entire direction of the committee, but my position as a journalist would never have existed in a different conference.”

To read Kimberly’s in-depth reflection on her experience at the UPeace conference, click here.

Involving students as civil society and media representatives was indicative of a broader effort by UPeace to make the conference a more effective educational experience. Students had to respond to a ‘real-time’ simulated crisis half way through the proceedings, they were instructed on the importance of respecting the cultural diversity of participants and before the conference Pace students received a three day course on human rights issues taught by UPeace faculty. 

“The UPeace conference was different from other conferences in that it was more focussed on a discussion of ideas and an exchange of viewpoints rather than cutthroat competition,” said Michelle, who has studied abroad in Cork, Ireland and Rome, Italy and volunteered with Villa La Paz Foundation in Lima, Peru. “The short course on human rights before the conference was very informative, interesting and beneficial since it was directly related to the topics we covered in the committee.”

Michelle and Kimberly were among 13 students from Pace University New York City attending the intensive conference at UPeace’s idyllic campus just outside of San Jose, Costa Rica. The theme of the 2013 conference was “The Path to Peace in an Increasingly Global Society.” Participants, a mix of 150 college, graduate school and high school students, hailed from 49 countries, the most diverse ever UPeace Model UN conference.

“I worry sometimes that Model UN can give students a skewed impression of how resolutions and treaties actually come about and allows them to avoid being held accountable for what they say in their committees” said Dr. Matthew Bolton, Model UN faculty advisor at Pace University New York City. “But the UPeace conference gave students the experience of dealing with journalists on deadlines, keeping their cool in press conferences and being called out by human rights groups.”

For more about Pace University’s participation in the UPeace conference, click here.

Located only two express subway stops from the iconic United Nations complex on the East River, Pace University’s New York City Model UN program has a 60-year history of excellence in regional, national and international conferences. Model UN at Pace is uniquely integrated into the Political Science curriculum within the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences and aims to encourage students to develop wisdom, knowledge, skills and community for global citizenship and vocation.

Pace University’s program also tries to link Model UN students to the global policymaking community in New York City, through bringing guest speakers to class and helping students to connect with international NGOs.

About Matthew Bolton

I am assistant professor of Political Science at Pace University and author of Foreign Aid and Landmine Clearance.
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