Holding Down the Fort

Crisis Containment at the Model U.N.

There is a problem in the Independence Ballroom of the Sheraton Boston Hotel. There are over 1400 high-school students, participants in the Harvard Model United Nations [HMUN], watching Ambassador-at-large Elliot Richardson '41 try to deliver a keynote address on the convention's first night. Something is wrong and you can tell it. The people on the dais -- Harvard students who organize the model UN -- are shifting uncomfortably in their chairs. The audience isn't doing much better. Richardson sways and launches into a five-minute barrage of questions -- "What would you like to see the UN to become, to evolve into? These are the kind of questions you should be asking yourself." He doesn't look well.

There is a delegate's voice in the background -- high-pitched, insulted and serious. He looks about 16 years old, is wearing a pinstripe suit and will someday be the ambassador to a small African nation. "That man isn't Elliot Richardson, it can't be," he whispers just a little too loudly. "He's an impostor. He hasn't answered one question straight yet." One of the U.N. organizers -- he is wearing a little badge with the VERITAS symbol superimposed on the U.N. symbol -- looks annoyed. It is a slow, shaky start.

* * * *

What happens when you let 1400 high school students loose in a Boston hotel for a weekend for the alleged purpose of conducting a Model U.N.?

Charles Norchi '79, "Chuck" to his friends and newly-elected president of the International Relations Council (IRC), is walking down the hall of the third floor of the Sheraton.


A graduate of the Grande Ecole de Sciences Politiques in Paris, Norchi is a well-seasoned student pol, ready for anything that this conference his organization has spawned can throw at him. He is clearly in charge.

A young woman appears from a room across the hall and looks seriously at Norchi. "Chuck, we've got a crisis in the Dalton Room." Norchi is not fazed. "Every year, we introduce a fictitious crisis to the members of the Security Council. They're woken up in the middle of the night and given news flashes about the situation. Sometimes, they come down in their pajamas." Norchi seems pleased with the process. "We keep them there until they can solve it," he notes, "we don't make many friends but it teaches them how to solve problems."

Norchi is on his way downstairs to the Constitution Ballroom for a meeting of his lieutenants with the 100 high-school teachers who have come the chaperone the weekend's festivities. He's got more of a crisis than he thinks.

Thomas Hewitt, general manager of the Sheraton, seemed at ease earlier in the day. Any troubles with the students who are living in your hotel so far? "We'll take any good piece of business -- whether they're students or not," Hewitt says, "and these are nice kids, very serious-minded. They run around and make some noise and have a little more energy than I do but they're nice kids -- I hope my son grows up like them."

Hewitt's assistants from the Sheraton's sales staff are singing a different song in the Constitution Ballroom. Tugging at his maroon polyester sport coat, Don Lawrence, sales employee and liaison for the Harvard group, gets decisive: "HMUN is on the verge of being told they cannot come back to the Sheraton -- contract or no contract." This is getting serious. "Rolls of toilet paper have been thrown out the windows of the students' hotel rooms, but that is nothing new. Now, they've started throwing cans and metal objects out, too. The hotel has got to pay to rent a car for a woman whose car windshield was smashed by a falling bottle." The chaperones and the HMUN organizers look decidedly unamused. Lawrence is merciless. "We're getting calls from the residents on St. Germain St...The kids are hanging obscene signs in their windows and..." pause "...mooning."

Emil A. Yappert '79, Secretary-General of the Model U.N., has stopped moderating the meeting and begins to referee. The teachers--leading groups from as far away as Mexico City, Oceanside, Calif., St. Louis, Mo., and as near as Newton South -- fight back. Nathan D. Leight '81, business manager for the HMUN, sees the trouble he is headed for. Leaning back in the two pieces of his three-piece corduroy suit that remain, Leight says the "Sheraton is the only facility in New England that can hold us. The closest feasible point after here is New York." No kidding.

The problem becomes clearer. "In previous years," Lawrence says, "you came into an empty house." This time, things were different -- most of the delegations arrived at 10 a.m. and waited in the Sheraton lobby until 3 p.m. to get their rooms. Chaperones and their students have been put on different floors.

Sister Ann Jordan, instructor at the New Jersey Immaculate Heart high school, has led a group of 40 girls to the conference. "The biggest problem," she says, "is that the chaperones are too spaced out for their kids. The hotel doesn't take the Harvard kids seriously -- I mean they're bright, but they're only kids."

They've already relocated some of the delegations to other floors. Others have been moved down the street to the Copley Square. "Whatever negative feelings there are began almost as soon as the conference began," says Jeffrey Gershen, history teacher at Columbia Prep of New York City. Gershen blames the Sheraton for botching room reservations, but still insists that "there were less violations of sanity and behavior than last year."

Norchi and Warren Hatch '78-4, HMUN director of security, explain that they can't stop the kids from throwing things out the windows when doors are locked. They are patrolling the halls as best they can. They point the finger at the hotel -- for poor in-processing of the delegates -- and at the teachers, for not being good chaperones. There is too much accusing and not enough solving going on. Finally, one teacher lays the line: "Most of these kids are under 18 -- they don't have any rights."