Across the World, Across the Classroom

SlugMUN hosts UCSC’s first Model UN conference

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Delegates from Asia passionately debated China’s territorial claim of the South China Sea in Engineering Classroom 192. Next door, the General Assembly drafted a resolution on drone warfare. Across in Baskin Classroom 169, 12 figures from American history held a Crisis Committee planning session for the arrival of extraterrestrial life.

It wasn’t a meeting of the United Nations in Manhattan, but rather the meeting of the intercollegiate Model United Nations (MUN) clubs at Baskin Engineering. Last weekend, the UC Santa Cruz Model United Nations club (SlugMUN) hosted UCSC’s first collegiate conference. Delegates from UC Davis, College of the Canyons, Diablo Valley College, Skyline College and Stanford University represented their MUN clubs in three days of mock diplomacy events, committees and debates.

In its current form, MUN at UC Santa Cruz is a club that competes on the collegiate MUN circuit. It is accompanied by a Cowell class, United Nations Contemporary Issues, which is open to all students.

Attendees take notes during a simulation of a meeting discussing the conflict in the South China Sea. Participants were given a country which they had to represent during this meeting, pictured are the delegates from the Phillipines, China and Russia. Photo by Alonso Hernandez
Attendees take notes during a simulation of a meeting discussing the conflict in the South China Sea. Participants were given a country which they had to represent during this meeting, pictured are the delegates from the Phillipines, China and Russia. Photo by Alonso Hernandez

Third-year politics student Bryce Onnen co-founded SlugMUN as a freshman in 2015. As secretary-general, the MUN version of a club president, Onnen took an idea from two students with no MUN experience to a 35-person competitive club team and a class of over 100, with 15 teaching assistants.

“I thought that [MUN] is a great way to get college students, especially at UCSC, to pay more attention to world events rather than just to the U.S.,” Onnen said. “Also [for them] to focus on diplomacy and trying to understand different points of view and break out of Santa Cruz’s political bubble.”

This year, SlugMUN has sent representatives to MUN conferences across the state and country. Student enrollment in MUN’s accompanying class also reached an all-time high this quarter. Members hope the club will continue to grow, especially in times where the U.S. government’s respect for real-life international organizations is under threat.

After attending these conferences, and realizing it was its last quarter with Onnen, SlugMUN decided to try hosting its own conference.

Lacking Institutional Support

“I would say the entire program is student run, from top to bottom,” said Natan Lao, a first-year computer engineering major and director of logistics and technology for SlugMUN’s conference.

SLUGMUN (Slug Model United Nations) participants take part in a crisis simulation where they discuss a strategy for dealing with a UFO that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. Each member is tasked with creating a plan to diffuse the situation in order to create the least amount of public unrest. Photo by Alonso Hernandez
SLUGMUN (Slug Model United Nations) participants take part in a crisis simulation where they discuss a strategy for dealing with a UFO that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. Each member is tasked with creating a plan to diffuse the situation in order to create the least amount of public unrest. Photo by Alonso Hernandez

However, while SlugMUN’s self sufficiency is a source of pride, it is not a consequence of choice.

Most MUN conferences take place in hotels, but due to their lack of funding, SlugMUN members have to fund their own trips and stay in nearby Airbnbs as they cannot afford to stay in hotels with the other teams.

“Even us, as a community college, [we] are able to get funding for accommodation,” said Rajiv Iyengar, a third-year from Diablo Valley College. “The fact that they are holding [the conference] on campus shows that there is an obvious lack of funding.”

This is a problem faced by many UCSC organizations that are also self sustained. For its conference, SlugMUN was able to get enough funding from student-run organizations to pay to rent the classrooms and equipment needed for the weekend. It received funding from the College Ten and Cowell Senates, the Stevenson Student Council and the Student Union Assembly. All other funding for its conference came from the money SlugMUN received on UCSC’s Giving Day.

The conference cost over $2,400 to hold in total, but with the fees paid by the attending schools, SlugMUN made a profit of $780. However, due to campus regulations, SlugMUN is only able to use funds for off-campus spending if it books eight weeks in advance. These regulations make it more difficult for SlugMUN to use the money to attend conferences, said Onnen.

Although it is primarily student run, SlugMUN is registered with Student Organization Advising and Resources (SOAR). It has a SOAR adviser, as well as faculty adviser Dena Robertson, who helps plan the class. However, at the conference’s small opening ceremony, Robertson made it clear that the credit for the event lay with the students.

The SLUGMUN faculty adviser delivers her opening remarks before participants disperse into their various committees which included a crisis committee that dealt with a UFO crash, a security council on the South China Sea Crisis and a General Assembly. Photo by Alonso Hernandez
The SLUGMUN faculty adviser delivers her opening remarks before participants disperse into their various committees which included a crisis committee that dealt with a UFO crash, a security council on the South China Sea Crisis and a General Assembly. Photo by Alonso Hernandez

“I have very little to do with the success of this endeavor,” Robertson said. “They have almost no institutional support and certainly no financial support. They do their fundraising on their own, they do everything on their own.”

A Vision for the Future

As a relatively new club, SlugMUN faces a complicated regulatory framework as it tries to compete in what is an indisputably expensive circuit. Despite this, SlugMUN is optimistic about its future. In an attempt to add a Santa Cruz flair to the weekend, SlugMUN chose more creative topics for debate than other conferences, such as incorporating historical figures, and held different types of socials including a beach bonfire.

Secretary-General Bryce Onnen said his vision for the future would be organizing a bigger conference next year. While there were about 40 attendees this year, Onnen said he would like to see at least 100 attendees from other schools and for the SlugMUN membership to go from about 35 to between 50 or 60.

“One of the goals that we have for the future is to get recognition and support from the university,” said first-year Natan Lao. “I really think that this could be something bigger in the future, and I am happy to be one of the pioneers.”