The Michael Novak Diplomacy Club: Teaching Charity and Diplomacy on Campus

The Michael Novak Diplomacy Club: Teaching Charity and Diplomacy on Campus

A trip to Harvard’s National Model United Nations Conference and an inspiration from a mentor led AMU’s Model UN Club to rename themselves and reorient their mission. 

Johanna Duncan, a junior majoring in History with a minor in Economics, has been doing Model United Nations since middle school. From her years of experience, she has learned many things. One thing that’s become clear to her is how vital the UN is to nations such as her native country of Colombia. “[I]t is the only way in which they can afford to form diplomatic relationships with a wider range of nations,” she says. “The majority of countries in the world can’t afford embassies everywhere, so they carry out their diplomatic endeavors through the UN.”

This sort of exposure to the needs and considerations of other countries is what motivated Johanna to join the Model UN club when she arrived at Ave Maria University her freshman year. Although she doesn’t have plans to go on to work for the UN after graduation, she sees it as an important component of her college education. The club’s mission on campus is to expose students to matters of diplomacy and prepare them to work with different cultures. Many on campus may not agree with all the UN does, Johanna explains, “But we all see the importance of diplomacy and learning to negotiate with people from different cultures.”  

“Ambassador Novak was a great example of how to treat others with Christian charity, making them always feel loved, even in political environments. That is what we want to bring to campus.” 

In February, AMU’s club was selected to represent the Vatican/Holy See at Harvard National Model United Nations (HNMUN). In preparation for the conference, one of the club’s members joked that they should give the Holy See a call. “I don’t take jokes lightly,” Johanna says. Immediately, she looked up the contact information of the Holy See Mission—and was astonished when they responded to her inquiry. “Let’s do Wednesday at 9,” they replied.

That Wednesday, the club members gathered together in front of the computer and waited for the call. “Fr. Roger Landry answered every question we had sent and then proceeded to give us some basic recommendations,” Johanna recalls. “Their closing remarks were very encouraging. They told us that the world is not perfect, but it is God’s creation and a gift to humanity, and we must take care of every aspect of it.”

At the HNMUN Conference, Johanna was on the Special Summit for Sustainable Development, addressing the issue of healthcare in Africa. She worked closely with delegates from Italy, Thailand, Iran, and more, and the college students themselves were from institutions around the world (Netherlands, India, and Venezuela, to name a few). HNMUN is the oldest and largest simulation of the United Nations of its kind, and it attracts participation from schools in over 70 different countries. “It is supposed to be a simulation of diplomacy, but this factor makes it a very real experience,” Johanna says. “We do actually negotiate and interact with people from different cultures and systems of meaning.”

After the trip, the club changed its name to the Michael Novak Diplomacy Club. The idea came to Johanna while the club was attending Mass at St. Paul’s in Harvard Square. “The priest said that the Mass was offered for Michael Novak,” she explains. Michael Novak, longtime friend and patron of Ave Maria University, passed away on February 17, 2017. “The club is very grateful to him; he actually helped us pay for the trip and hosted us in his house [beforehand] to converse about diplomacy.”

This experience also served as an opportunity for reorientation. The club plans to continue attending HNMUN, but they want to focus their work on activities through which students can learn to work and interact with people from different cultures. “That is extremely valuable for our education. Ambassador Novak was a great example of how to treat others with Christian charity, making them always feel loved, even in political environments. That is what we want to bring to campus.”