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."

There is agreement that a 1 a.m. curfew will be put into effect. An exception will be made for those attending the "Rocky Horror Picture Show." Norchi senses the futility and grows angrier: "If you think there should be a curfew and kids should be in bed at 1 o'clock, then, dammit, put them in bed." One local school, Belmont Hill, has come without a faculty chaperone. They threw a toga party on the 25th floor the night before. One of the members of their delegation posed as a teacher and signed them in. Chuck's problems have just begun. A staff member quietly turns away -- "The shit has really hit the fan."

* * * *

"This is my first experience with any IRC function, and I must say I was impressed by the organizational and overall efficiency of the conference," Joseph Z. Cortes '81, secretary of the Disarmaments Committee said.

The IRC spends just over $10,000 on the four-day event and hauls in $18,000 in return revenues and delegate fees, Russel Baris '81, chairman of the IRC Board of Auditors, estimates. These profits are plowed into IRC activities.

The delegates pay for their own travel and room expenses. They come to Boston every year for the HMUN, armed with Roberts' Rules, the latest jokes in international relations, and inexhaustible quantities of alcohol and marijuana. A bellboy stops me in the lobby and smiles -- "they must have ten pushers working overtime," he says. The delegate from Guyana sends a glass of Kool-Aid to the chairman of the Disarmament Committee. Love notes, disguised as cogent policy discussions among delegations and neighboring nations, roam through the committee.

The debate is lively in the Independence Room East on the second floor. Jon Shifren, president of the World Affairs Club and Long Island's Wheatley School, is a high school senior and a model U.N. veteran. His committee has been good to his country -- the People's Republic of China -- thus far. "It's been completely dominated by the Third World," he says. How did his school earn the honor of representing the PRC? "Our former president," Shiffen says, "knew Emil Yappert, but maybe we were just lucky." He waves his card in the air -- a signal that he wants to speak. He won an award last year at Yale, while representing Spain.

Law of the Sea is meeting next door. Andrew Power, the delegate from Kenya and the Dalton School of New York City, says he is having a pretty good time "but I'm trying to win" the award for best delegate in his committee. Power loosens his navy tie and rumples his white shirt some more. "Right now," he says, motioning at the pile of debris which surrounds his chair, "you have to sweat it out, but if you win, that's the fun part."

Power's comments are cut short. Martha Finnemore '81, corporate member of the IRC, has grabbed the microphone away from the Law of the Sea to read the statement on the 1 a.m. curfew. It is a thankless task. "The situation must be corrected if there is to be an HMUN next year." She is greeted by expletives and boos, and loses her cool: "You brought this upon yourself -- you're being a big pain in the ass and we don't like it any better than you do. This was not our idea."

At a staff meeting later that afternoon, assignments for patrolling the hotel halls are handed out. Harvard students will work two-hour shifts. Secretariat personnel spot flaming toilet paper flying from the hotel later that Saturday night. They are busily partying in suite #113, but will take time out to investigate. Security director Hatch confronts the sheepish perpetrators and they deny it. It doesn't really matter -- it is a relatively calm night. No more bottles and metal objects.

* * * *

At a meeting on Sunday, after the convention has closed, IRC representatives and Sheraton sales people talk over the weekend. The IRC will pay for the damage to the woman's car, a spokesman for Sheraton says. HMUN can hold their '79 conference, as planned. "We were no worse than the drunk old men from the Clover Club," Finnemore says. Things worked out okay, says Norchi. "I think they need us as much as we need them," he surmises, -- "the Shriners and the AMA cause more trouble than we do."