Decorum, delegates (and politicians)


Jake Kagnoff, Guest Writer

In the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, the inaugural Torrey and Triton MUN Conference was cancelled. For days, I did not want to believe this unfortunate news. Firstly, because my co-chair for the World Health Organization (WHO) Committee, Daniel Hotson, and I had spent the entire summer preparing a background guide for delegates to use in writing papers on their country policy. And, secondly, I was looking to redeem myself after alienating myself from the club I had co-founded in 8th grade—the very club that had turned this shy kid into a confident debater. After several years of active participation, I just couldn’t handle the pressure of traveling cross-country for conferences while dealing with the stressful college process. In short, I was devastated. This conference was my chance to end my MUN career on a high note. It was a chance to show my fellow club members that I was not a flake; a chance to show everyone that I could lead a committee. 

Fast forward to early April when we received some good news, and I found a new purpose. Thanks to the heroic efforts of Nikita Nair, Sofia Besharati, Gicel Moreno, and our esteemed advisors, the inaugural T & T Conference was back on schedule, albeit in an unusual format. I was relieved. 

MUN is not designed for video conferencing, no matter the planning and preparation. Delegates spend months in advance learning as much as they can about a given topic. They arrive at a conference eager to demonstrate what they know, often excitedly talking over each other in order to secure the first speech in the first moderated caucus. Decorum, and all the well-known debating rules and parliamentary procedures, are often thrown out the window. How could this mayhem be moderated over Zoom? In order to minimize such demonstrated verbal chaos, committee chairs were advised to keep delegates on mute, especially when someone else was talking. Days before the video conference, Daniel and I were concerned that all of our hard work would be overrun by overeager delegates.

Saturday, April 25 was conference day. I woke early and dressed in my traditional blue blazer, my lapel slightly askew. One by one, our delegates passed through the Zoom waiting room, eager to begin their first and hopefully last online conference. I let out a sigh. It was now or never. I had to prove to myself and everyone that I could do it. “Decorum delegates,” I began. “No cross-talk. Welcome to the inaugural T&T MUN conference.” 

Throughout the exhilarating seven-hour conference, we were prepared to experience Zoom problems, including delays or lags for participants, glitches in breakout rooms and chat malfunctions. However, any pre-conference jitters subsided as soon as the delegates motioned to begin debate. I was astounded by the research and dedication to MUN that everyone in our committee demonstrated. Our topic for the WHO MUN committee was how we can work to eradicate Leishmaniasis, a lesser-known arbovirus that exists in tropical climates. By the end of the day, I felt as though committee participants were fully equipped to propose solutions to the government to eliminate this virus. Not only did our delegates come prepared to debate, but they composed themselves in a way that would make global politicians proud. Decorum was in order after all, and we were amazed at how the Zoom technology actually enhanced our management of the proceedings. We were better able to maintain decorum by using Zoom’s mute feature, which enabled us to control the ebb, flow, and drama of often heated debate. I was overjoyed, relieved, and, most of all, filled with immense pride. 

Although it was not planned at the time, our committee topic strangely overlapped with the current COVID-19 pandemic. If you tune into the news, you will often hear our president suggesting new ways to cure the virus. Today, maybe injecting yourself with disinfectant could rid you of the virus? Tomorrow, perhaps eating soap could do the trick? The important takeaway here is that President Trump should not make light of this devastating pandemic and check himself before he says something that millions of people may automatically follow. It is absolutely mind-boggling to me that 13- to 16-year old MUNers at our recent conference were better able to collaborate to try and solve the world’s most pressing issues than those who are currently in office. Perhaps our president should watch a tape of our inaugural Zoom conference? He might learn a thing or two.

 After all is said and done, I am eternally grateful to the T&T MUN organizers for orchestrating this conference. I was going crazy doing nothing during the pandemic, but this conference filled me with purpose. Every single email that we received after the conference was filled with positive comments about how people would want to do a Zoom conference next year. Although it fills me with great sadness to end my high school MUN career, I couldn’t have imagined leaving on a better note. And, with that, I hereby motion to end debate.