DHMUN—A ‘Model’ of Excellence in Women’s Leadership

Model UNAs the proud member of an all-women’s educational institution, I have joined with my colleagues to commit ourselves to inculcating in our students the importance of “integrity, leadership, diversity, and service as well as respect for self and others…” as they prepare for “the challenges and choices they will face as women and citizens of the world” (Dana Hall Mission Statement). As the mother of two grown daughters and a woman myself, I recognize that despite the fact that today, women make up half of this nation’s population and more than half of its college students, they nevertheless will face countless challenges in their pursuit to acquire jobs, to earn incomes equitable to their male counterparts, and to attain leadership positions in the public and private sectors alike. To put it bluntly, it’s still not easy being a woman in the adult world. However, as a teacher, I have the ability to cultivate in my female students the belief that they not only should strive for gender equity in all aspects of their lives—they should embody it, especially in terms of leadership. Dana Hall’s nationally-ranked Model United Nations program is a natural way to hone and strengthen these ideals. What is Model UN? Simply put, Model UN is a form of role play, where students take on the roles of United Nations delegates, historical and contemporary figures in international policy-making, with an eye towards trying to solve real world problems such as climate change, armed conflicts, food and water insecurity, labor exploitation, infectious disease and economic disparities, to name just a few.

Model UN is the real deal. It teaches our girls the power of cooperation, bargaining and negotiation, multilateral decision-making and on-the-spot collaborative problem solving—all skills absolutely necessary in a world that is becoming increasingly divided. Though many of my colleagues on the Model UN circuit lament that they sometimes struggle to convey these messages to their own students, I can confidently say that Dana Hall School emphasizes and models these skills for our girls on the daily, so much so that it has become the rule, not the exception. At Dana, all of our leaders are girls. The best athletes are girls, the best actors are girls, the best debaters are girls…and our best scientists, mathematicians, dancers and singers? Also girls. This actuality is not so much a confidence booster as it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because our students only see women leading, they presume that they too, will one day lead. This sentiment has lent itself well to the girls who belong to Dana Hall’s Model UN team in particular—a program that demands confidence and leadership in the areas of not only public speaking and leadership, but also research, problem solving and writing. Given this, our girls do well…exceptionally well. And it gives me hope for our collective future.

Many of the Dana students who were “baptized” into the Model UN movement will tell you that the program has served as a necessary stepping stone between their high school years and their future careers. Over the last 18 years, I have watched former team members go on to careers in government, international business, journalism, law and the nonprofit world, becoming the diplomats, policy writers and change makers that they once portrayed as high school delegates. As one former student recently shared with me, “Model UN taught me how to lead. It taught me the importance of consensus building, but also when to assert my own ideas and actions. Mostly though, MUN taught me to care—to aspire to make a difference. Model UN taught me how to be human.” And let’s be honest; we all could use a bit more humanity in the world, couldn’t we?

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About Heather Panahi

Heather Panahi is both an Upper School Social Studies teacher and Model UN coach at Dana Hall. She is also the parent of two Dana girls--Nora Panahi ('15) and Maya Panahi ('19). Heather joined the Dana Hall community in 2003.

4 Replies to “DHMUN—A ‘Model’ of Excellence in Women’s Leadership”

  1. A bit more humanity is exactly what we need! Thank you for your exceptional leadership of our Model UN program, Heather.

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