By Katherine Carmichael
Most students who come to class late discreetly walk to their desk, their classmates acting as if nothing happened. One classroom, however, erupts into applause when a classmate arrives 15 minutes late.
This is not a cruel shaming technique designed to encourage students to arrive on time. It’s just how the COC Model United Nations (MUN) team conducts business.
“It’s a simulation. It’s a form of role-playing,” as Phil Gussin, MUN professor puts it.
Model United Nations is an authentic simulation of the real United Nations (U.N.) where students, who are playing the role of U.N. delegates, meet with other student-delegates at conferences to create agreements which benefit the country each student represents.
The program was created a few years after the U.N. was formed in order to train students to enter the United Nations in adulthood, and to place the U.N.’s values in the country’s youth. As time went on, the program became well revered in the international community, and now, current politicians have often participated in MUN to get themselves conditioned into politics.
The program grew to become so well respected since the simulation teaches students involved about debating, communicating, forming strategy, international politics, and history in a way that’s more competitive and more interactive than speech and debate.
Now Model U.N. teams range from junior high schools to prestigious universities with every level in between.
While university and four-year college MUN teams usually operate in different spheres than community college MUN teams, COC is an exception.
In order to ensure fair competition, different conferences are held for the many levels MUN teams may be in. Essentially, highly ranked teams compete in highly competitive, well-known conferences alongside other highly ranked teams, and poorly ranked teams compete in less competitive, less well-known conferences alongside other poorly ranked teams.
The COC Model United Nations team competes in conferences with Ivy League schools and prestigious four-year universities like UC Berkeley or UCLA.
This is because COC is the only community college ranked among the top-75 MUN teams in the nation, according to Bestdelegate.com, which keeps the official ranking of all Model United Nations teams.
After each conference is finished, the participating schools are given awards based on their performance in that conference such as the Best Delegation award, which is given to the best-performing school at the conference. Then, a point system is assigned based on the type and number of awards each school achieves. Best Delegate ranks MUN teams based on this point system.
The COC Model U.N. team’s high rank has also made them extremely well known among these prestigious four-year colleges and universities.
“It used to be that the biggest question we got was ‘where’s College of the Canyons?’ We would have to define ourselves by our proximity to Magic Mountain, but now the question is more often are you coming to our conference,” Gussin said.
However, this wasn’t the case before Gussin accepted his job at COC.
When Gussin was first hired at the college, part of his job description was to revive COC’s MUN program, which was dormant at the time.
The first thing Gussin did in order to revive the program was look up what Model United Nations was, since he had never heard about it until that point. Once he learned about MUN and what it was, he needed to decide how to run the program altogether.
While Gussin wanted it to be skills based more than anything else, he wanted the type of students involved and the type of environment fostered to be the biggest things defining the team.
“A lot of these students, when they walk into a room, they’re the smartest person in the room. When they walk in the MUN room, they’re not going to be the smartest person in the room. And that can be really exciting. The people who aren’t intimidated by that, those are exactly the kind of delegates I’m looking for,” Gussin said.
Once Gussin manages to recruit those kinds of students, he puts them through a rigorous and often tedious training program. He does this to weed out students who either aren’t going to take Model United Nations seriously, or who will be negatively affected by the MUN program.
“This isn’t something to just lollygag. You can’t walk into a conference and think you’re going to win an award because you’re good at talking. Everyone here is good at talking,” said Younus Albojermi, a COC MUN alum, who went on to compete with UC Berkeley’s MUN program.
Even so, the intelligent students and intense training aren’t what make COC MUN what it is. It’s the sense of community that does.
Although Gussin usually plays the role of professor and advisor to the MUN students while they prepare for and compete in conferences, he also plays another important role: a father-figure and mentor who offers much-needed guidance.
The Model U.N. team is certainly not built to be a free therapy session for students, but the sharing of intimate stories and feelings with the team not only allows students to perform at their highest ability, it also creates a level of trust among the team as a whole.
“I was joining a support system that I’ve never had in my entire life. I was joining a family. The people in MUN, they’re for you. We’re never against you,” said Alex Martin, a current member of the team.
This sense of support and camaraderie among the team is the main reason Gussin is not worried about continuing the success of COC’s MUN in future years, despite only having two veterans continue in the fall.
The team may lack many veteran-new student relationships in the future, but that does not mean those relationships won’t exist at all.
Because previous students are extremely proud of the level COC’s MUN team is at now, many veterans plan to come back to the team occasionally to support and mentor new students next semester.
“The fact that everybody’s leaving is problematic, but the fact that our family is growing even more is totally cool,” Gussin said.