Gunn Model United Nations Team Excels at Yale MUN 50

YMUN 50 group in session

Nineteen Highlanders in the Model United Nations co-curricular program participated in the 50th Yale Model United Nations (YMUN) conference, held January 18-21 on the campus of Yale University. This was the first time in recent memory that Gunn students joined YMUN, which attracted some 2,000 delegates from 45 countries and all 50 states.

Ryan Ryu ’25, a MUN veteran, was honored with a “Best Delegate” award during the Closing Ceremonies. Ryu represented the United States on the UN Sub-Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (UNSCETDG). His assignment was to participate in a simulation that focused on preventing chemical accidents.

In past years, Highlanders have competed at Model UN conferences at Harvard and Georgetown, and in February, six Gunn students will return to Washington, D.C., for the 61st annual North American Invitational Model United Nations (NAIMUN), the largest student-run Model United Nations conference in the world, with more than 3,000 delegates.

Exploring What’s Right in Our Backyard
One of the things that makes YMUN unique is that it is spread out across the Yale campus, rather than being focused in a single location, said Head Coach Ian Rathkey of the World Languages faculty, who worked with three assistant coaches, Karoline Theobald P’09 ’14 of the English Department faculty, Tim Schatz of the Mathematics Department faculty, and Moira Conlan P’26, Director of Library and Archives, to help Gunn students prepare for YMUN.

At the conference, students had opportunities to explore the campus, meet current Yale students, spend time in Yale classrooms, and participate in ‘Yale Day,’ a signature event dedicated to experiencing life as a Yale student. Many attended the keynote lecture, “The Past and Future of International Relations,” by Thomas Graham, a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who focuses on Russian/Eurasian affairs and U.S.-Russian relations, and a research scholar at the MacMillan Center at Yale University, where he teaches courses on U.S.-Russian relations and Russian foreign policy. Graham also was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russia on the U.S. National Security Council 2004-2007 and Director for Russian Affairs 2002-2004.

“From what I have seen, this program has more committees and more variety of committees, and that I think is exciting for our students,” Theobald said of YMUN, noting the decision to attend a Connecticut-based conference also aligned with one of the pillars of the school’s educational philosophy: A Sense of Rootedness and Place. “I think it’s high time that we explore what is in our own backyard,” she said.

“I definitely agree with that,” Rathkey said. “It was pretty cool to feel like we were representing Connecticut. There were other Connecticut schools. Kingswood-Oxford was there, Loomis Chaffee, Hotchkiss. So even though we were not solely representing our home turf, it was still great to have that opportunity at such a huge, huge event.”

In fact, YMUN boasted 50 committees for the conference’s 50th anniversary year. “From what I can tell, all of them ran quite well. The kids all had a fun time and it was a good experience,” Rathkey said, pointing out that the premise of Model UN aligns equally well with what students learn through the school’s four-year citizenship curriculum. “Unlike debate teams, where you're trying to argue with someone and show how they're wrong, MUN is about, ‘How can I find common ground with this person? How can I persuade this person that we have something we agree on? And can I reach consensus with them?’”

Preparing for a Zombie Apocalypse
There was also an element of fun. In preparation for the conference, students practiced scenarios based on an obviously fictional Zombie apocalypse, which involved passing resolutions to solve the Zombie crisis at hand.

“The students who are familiar with it and have been doing it for a few years have a lot of experience and are very passionate about it, and were able to share that with the new students as well,” Rathkey said. “All Model UN is role playing. We would do simulations, which are mini versions of these conferences.”

In practice sessions students learned the rules of parliamentary procedures, honed their writing skills, and debated topics such as “Is a hot dog a sandwich?”

“There’s a lot of practice on how to improve their rhetoric,” Rathkey said. “One of the other things they had to do in preparation for the conference was write position papers that show how much research you’ve done on your country and your country’s history on the committee topic, and what your county proposes as a solution going forward. You do that to show the research that you’ve done to the committee chair, and it also lets fellow delegates know, ‘This is what I am going to try and go in and do.’ You might form a bloc with other countries to get resolutions passed. Ultimately, the thing that makes you most successful is to get a resolution passed. It sounds easy since everyone is theoretically trying to work together but to be a sponsor, you have to be a leader. Resolutions might contradict or overlap. It’s rare for resolutions to not pass. But it's hard to get them to pass unanimously, just like in the real world. There's definitely some practice in there for politicking as well.”

Students develop skills that will benefit them in college and beyond. “It improves your rhetoric skills. When you’re speaking, you can say ‘Um’ and ‘Like.’ You have to speak tactfully, be more diplomatic, literally and figuratively. There are some elements of debate in it, because you have to take turns speaking. You can’t interrupt someone. It teaches you to practice listening, which is a skill that needs to be practiced by everyone, and then you get your turn to speak,” Rathkey said, adding that MUN requires teamwork as well. 

Encouraging a Global Perspective
Asked about his committee assignment at YMUN this year, Ryu said: “It was very complicated in a way. Our committee chairs were told that ours was going to be one of the toughest committees at the conference because of all the content we were given. I was proud that I passed a resolution paper with delegation leaders from Russia and China. That was a historical moment.” 

He was excited to hear the conference’s keynote speaker, Ban Ki-Moon, the eighth Secretary General of the United Nations. “My takeaway from his speech was we were reminded once again that we are the emerging leaders and whatever is going on in the world, it’s going to be in our hands. He was reminding us that we are going to be the ones to take action and to think in a way to transform the world, rather than avoiding problems,” said Ryu, who competed at MUN conferences at Georgetown and Yale in 2023, and was selected, along with Highlander Matthew Neu ’24, to the All-American Model United Nations 2023 Travel Team in the fall.

Karl Hammer ’25, who joined Gunn’s MUN program for the first time this year, was also impressed by Ki-Moon’s remarks at YMUN. “He said the issues of the world have no boundary. It may seem that the borders of a country separate issues and people from each other, but the only way to make a better world is to rejoice in our common humanity. It’s not the U.S. vs. China, it’s the U.S. and China. The striving to find solutions is hindered by closed-mindedness and tribalism. You have to think about things on a global scale and have a global perspective,” Hammer said.

In his committee assignment, he represented the Republic of Rwanda. “We discussed the way the World Bank can help countries come together in solving economic and environmental issues, and creating or improving the standard of living in those countries,” Hammer said. 

Bridie Bolger ’24 was assigned to a Crisis Committee in the role of U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, who served under President George W. Bush during his first term. She participated in a simulation of the National Security Council meeting on September 12, 2001, where students discussed the nation’s path forward following the  9/11 attacks. Among the questions she was asked to consider were: “How will we protect the safety of our citizens? What message will we send the world about our willingness to defend our liberties and freedom?”

“MUN is my passion,” said Bolger, who has specialized in Crisis Committee work for almost two years. “I really do think simulations like this can solve problems. It gets people in the headspace to solve problems in a very specific way. It allows them to see systems and how to take advantage of them in order to enact change in a very positive way.”

Gigi Boucher ’25, who represented Nepal on the Commission on Science and Technology, discussed how to use technology such as artificial intelligence and renewable energy to develop “smart cities” and overcome challenges such as congestion and pollution. Boucher said she chose to join Gunn’s MUN program this year because she was curious about it. Like other students in the co-curricular program, she wrote two position papers on two different topics that presented both challenges and potential solutions. “I like the research aspect of it,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity to learn new information that I wouldn’t typically find elsewhere.”

Marley Kennedy ’25 held a unique position as a delegate for a historical committee, Et Tu, Brute? Rome in Crisis. She was engaged in helping to resolve the crisis surrounding the assassination of Julius Caesar. Gunn students also served as delegates for regional bodies, including the European Union, on Economic and Social Councils (ECOSOCs), including Crime Prevention and Criminal Activity, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and the Commission on the Status of Women. And they served on General Assemblies (GAs), which represent some of the largest and most intense committees at YMUN. Among them was the World Health Organization and the Disarmament and International Security Committee, which discussed Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons and Data Collection as a Threat to International Security. 

Additional Images

YMUN 50 group in session
Ryan Ryu '25 with his Best Delegate award at YMUN 50