Admissions Rejects Model UN Topic Paper on Sexual Minorities
Yeshiva University’s Office of Admissions recently rejected a Model United Nations topic paper dealing with state-sponsored persecution of sexual minorities across the world.
The paper, titled “State-Sponsored Legal Discrimination and Violence Against Sexual Minorities,” was for the Model UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which is chaired this year by SCWSC President Shoshana Marder. Its aim was to debate state-sponsored legal discrimination of sexual minorities, which aspects of familial and economic life should be regulated from an international level and how to ensure the protection of the rights and lives of sexual minorities.
When approached by The Commentator for comment, Geri Mansdorf, the University’s Director of Undergraduate Admissions — the department responsible for overseeing the event — explained, “It was a decision that was made in the best interest of the high school students who are coming to attend.” According to Mansdorf, the decision’s intention was to prevent any conversation or comments related to the LGBTQ community that may be triggering for some high school students to whom the topic may be sensitive and personal, as many delegates will be representing countries with a negative — if not hostile — stance towards sexual minorities.
Mansdorf declined requests to comment further, stating that “it is not a topic that really requires a lot of discussion,” emphasizing that the decision was made with the participants’ “mental health and well-being” in mind and insisting that the decision was absolutely final. Mansdorf refused to respond to The Commentator’s email request for official comment.
Yeshiva University Model United Nations, or YUNMUN, is an extracurricular activity run by the Office of Admissions in which high school students roleplay as delegates to the United Nations and simulate UN committees. It serves both as a Model United Nations conference and an admissions event. YU undergraduate students from both campuses are responsible for hiring staff, designing the topics, handling social media and moderating the committees at the conference itself.
Like every topic paper in each committee, delegates are not required to share their own personal beliefs; rather, they are required only to represent the views of the country to which they are assigned — an expectation that is made clear to every school and delegate. The topic paper in question did not ask delegates to debate Yeshiva University’s or the greater Modern Orthodox world’s approach towards the LGBTQ community. The Office of Admissions informed only the secretariat (YU students who serve as liaisons between the committee chairs and the Office of Admissions) of the decision. Multiple chairs confirmed that they were not consulted about the decision, and they found out through word of mouth.
A letter co-authored by nine chairs, last year’s Secretary General and six out of seven student council presidents from both undergraduate campuses was sent to Mansdorf, expressing their displeasure with the decision and requesting that the topic paper be reconsidered for approval. Mansdorf received the letter but refused to reopen the issue.
“The most disappointing element of the decision to not allow the topic of LGBTQ rights to be discussed as a topic at model UN was not the decision itself, but rather the treatment by members of the administration of the chairs,” said Judah Stiefel, Chair of the Model UN International Maritime Organization (IMO). “The YUNMUN chairs, who are the some of the most thoughtful and active students on both campuses, voiced their opinions to a member of the admissions department in a carefully worded email, and were met with a curt response. Student leaders took time out of their busy schedules to run Model United Nations and were treated like children by their administration. I feel that the students involved are owed an apology.”
Aside from the creation of topic papers, chairs are also responsible for drafting welcome letters to introduce themselves and their committees to the high school delegates. Marder’s topic paper included a statement explaining how the UNHRC usually “addresses important human rights issue such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion and LGBT rights.” However, the sentence was removed from the welcome letter once the topic paper was rejected.
In response to the decision made by the Office of Admissions, Lilly Gelman, the chair of the Model UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), resigned from her position. “For years, YUNMUN has brought forth similarly sensitive topics such as rape, sexual harassment, sex trafficking, abortion and contraception,” said Gelman. “Choosing to specifically ban the discussion of homosexuality from this year’s conference after allowing these topics [above] struck me as homophobic and hypocritical. I no longer wanted to represent an institution in which I see discriminatory tendencies at their admissions event.”
Another chair, who wished to remain anonymous, asked the Office of Admissions for a meeting to clarify the reason and the process of the rejection, but was denied, with Admissions stating the issue was resolved. However, after threatening to resign unless given a meeting, the Office of Admissions reversed its decision and granted the chair’s request. The chair is scheduled to meet with the Office of Admissions this week to discuss the issue further.
“The decision not to include the topic paper was the only responsible choice,” said a source close to the decision-making process. “It would have been incorrect and irresponsible to introduce this topic to high school students in the YUNMUN environment. It is a sensitive issue that deserves to be introduced in an appropriately supported environment which allows participants to feel safe and protected.”
While Mansdorf similarly maintained that reason for the rejection was always about the mental health of the high schoolers, multiple chairs confirmed with The Commentator that the initial reason given to them was the concern that day schools and yeshivas that do not openly discuss LGBTQ issues might be forced, with this topic paper, to address uncomfortable topics with their Model UN teams, and that the Office of Admissions was uncomfortable asking those schools to do this. According to these chairs, it was only after the aforementioned letter was sent that the reason regarding the delegates’ mental health was offered. It is unclear if these two reasons work in parallel with each other and the second reason was stated only at a later date, or if the Office of Admissions changed its position. The above-mentioned letter did not address the issue of the psychological health of the high schoolers.
It also remains unclear why, and which specific parties, removed the phrase “LGBT” from the welcome letter. An examination of several current and past welcome letters indicates that it is common for YUNMUN chairs to give a general overview of topics that their committees address, even if those topics are not specifically discussed at the conference. The Office of Admissions declined to comment on this.
At YUNMUN, each high school is assigned a country to represent, and each committee deals with separate topics based on their jurisdiction. YUNMUN invites Jewish day schools and yeshivas from all over the world to participate. The event is held at a hotel in the tristate area every year in early February.