An Andover student at the 46th annual Yale Model United Nations (YMUN) reported a delegate from a school in China for exhibiting flu-like symptoms and having a potential case of novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV. As a precaution, the conference organizers cancelled the final day of events, which included the last committee session and awards ceremony. The student in question has since been tested for coronavirus, but the test results have not yet been released, according to the New Haven Register.
In total, 17 Andover students participated in the event, which hosted over 2,500 students and faculty advisors from 40 different countries, with delegates in different committees focused on several global issues.
Memo Canales ’21, a delegate from Andover, wishes the situation was handled with greater transparency.
“I think [the organizers] made the right decision, as the person who was sick was from a city in China that was not far from the area of the outbreak, but I don’t think [the organizers] did it in the best way possible. They were not being clear about the whole situation initially and kept sending out almost cryptic messages to advisors and students. We were all immediately suspicious that it was something related to coronavirus, but it was all just rumors. Eventually, when they finally revealed the reason behind the cancellation, it caused a lot of unnecessary panic,” said Canales.
Teruyo Shimazu, Instructor in Japanese and faculty advisor to the Andover Model United Nations club, believes that Yale made the right decision. Even before arriving at the conference, she was concerned about the health risks of participating at YMUN with delegates from a Chinese school close to Wuhan.
“As a matter of fact, I was not really happy when I arrived at YMUN. I checked all the participating schools, and I noticed that one of the schools from China was only 200 miles away from Wuhuan. So, naturally, I was kind of suspicious. If I were a teacher from that school, I probably would not have traveled to the conference in consideration for other people that could potentially get contaminated,” said Shimazu.
Shimazu continued, “I had been telling the students throughout the week and [at] nightly meetings to not take any unnecessary risks. Don’t go to the party, don’t go to the dance, just go back to your room. That was the only thing I was really able to do. The most important thing to me was not [the students’] performance, the most important thing is safety and health.”
Students who attended the conference have been the subject of numerous jokes and comments regarding the Coronavirus, according to Canales. While Canales recognizes that there is an element of humor to the situation, she believes that making fun of the virus risks trivializing the issue. Canales also didn’t appreciate how the school communicated the risk of coronavirus to the Andover community.
“Today in my first-period class, a kid was wearing a facemask. I think he was wearing mostly as a joke or as a fashion thing. But then when he learned that I went to YMUN, he started asking me to ‘get away’ and stuff like that. It was funny, but jokes of that sort definitely undermine and trivialize an issue that is threatening thousands of people’s lives. I will say that the school didn’t have to write out a mass email about the students [who] went to YMUN and all of the concerns regarding the coronavirus, because everybody immediately knew who we were,” said Canales.
Andover students will not participate in the annual Harvard Model United Nations (HMUN) conference this year, which is scheduled to take place through the end of January and the beginning of February. Andover MUN has been attending HMUN for the past couple of years. Though HMUN has made it explicit that no students from China will be attending HMUN, Shimazu agrees with Andover’s decision to act with caution.
“I prefer it this way because, considering the location, it’s not Yale. Yale was contained. The only people who [we] would probably be exposed would be the YMUN participants. But the hotel we would be staying at for HMUN is in the middle [of] downtown Boston. I’ve been participating in HMUN for decades, and there won’t only be students from China, but also tourists and other populations there….So considering all those facts, imagine how crowded the area would be, the risk is higher. Even if it’s a tough decision to make, I always want to make sure not to take any possible risks. What if someone really got sick? How could we justify that?” said Shimazu.
Despite all of the concerns surrounding coronavirus, Andover students brought home multiple titles from YMUN. Irene Kwon ’21, Alana Yang ’21, Lasal Mapitigama ’21, Melissa Damasceno ’22, Amara Neal ’22, and Amber Ting ’23 were awarded Outstanding Delegate in their respective committees, and Sophia Hlavaty ’21, Jason Huang ’21, and Yeetang Kwok ’20 received Honorable Mentions.
Karsten Rynearson ’22, who received Best Delegate, ultimately enjoyed the conference and took inspiration from the other delegates.
“While the coronavirus concerns were definitely scary and led to a lot of craziness, I think our delegation ultimately stayed calm under both the pressure of [the surrounding delegates] and the whole [coronavirus] situation that arose toward the end. I think that our ability to [stay calm] has led to many successes in our delegation. In New Haven, I had an amazing time getting to the people who I’d always admired and found so inspiring, and I think the community we built was another piece in how we all did well, we were able to support each other throughout the process,” said Rynearson.
Editor’s Note: Sophia Hlavaty ’21 is a News Associate for The Phillipian.