During June and July of 2020, I participated in The New School’s United Nations Summer Session (UNSS). I was a part of the UNSS practicum option which meant that I attended the lectures and colloquia that were created for all students within the program and also worked directly with a UN agency and a team of fellow students on a project of the agency’s choosing. This year, the entirety of UNSS was conducted online in order to ensure all participant’s safety during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A typical week during UNSS consisted of a three hour lecture held twice a week, a two hour colloquia session where we would hear from UN (former) staff on prominent global issues, and multiple meetings throughout the week with my team members and our UN supervisors regarding our practicum project.
My practicum group worked with UN Women to further develop the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) which is the first UN document to address international norms of migration. My team and I were policy analysts, becoming familiar with what had already been written into the document and researching issues migrants face at length in order to further the GCM substantially. UN Women worked on this project so that the GCM would be created with a gender lens, recognizing that women, girls, and members of the LGBTQIA community typically go through the most hardship and descrimination when migrating.
By the end of UNSS, I had not only submitted the typical papers and reports, but my team had also submitted extensive documents that clearly laid out the major barriers and dangers for women, girls, and LGBTQIA folks who migrate.
My experience with UNSS was incredibly beneficial to not only my career development, but also to my world view. I feel very grateful to have been able to work with a practicum team made up of women who had such varied experiences and had overcome so much in their lives. While the classes were useful to gain more knowledge of the history of the UN system, I found that most of my learning occurred during the meetings I would have with my practicum teammates.
Hearing these women’s lived experiences with migration, colonialism, and patriarchal and sexual violence was incredibly powerful. Sharing our perspectives with each other helped us to appreciate and respect one another, even in moments of disagreement. Sharing personal stories also helped to connect us to the GCM since we felt that this was our opportunity to aid power structures in addressing patriarchal discrimination that we had all felt in unique ways of varying intensity.
Having been placed with such a competent group of accomplished women, I found myself a little intimidated at first when considering how much I would be able to contribute to our team. However, as the days went on I realized that my inexperience in long, academic essays wasn’t a weakness (like I was worried it would be), but a strength. I noticed that I was good at being able to condense information into its most vital elements while keeping language accessible. Keeping our additions relatively short and easy to understand was a major hurdle we had to overcome when working on the GCM. This was because we needed to keep in mind that our audience would not be experts on gender or migration and would have limited time to go over these documents. It was very exciting to me to have this new found skill of precise language and I was happy to be asked to do the final edit of our checklist to make sure the tone was consistent. Having my teammates recognize what I brought to the group helped me to feel much more confident in my ability to do professional work in a conscious and inclusive manner.
Working with our UN advisers from UN women and our UNSS faculty advisor was also incredibly valuable. The guidance and insight they were able to give us on everything from what word would be most effective in a sentence to what UN policies we should study helped to make our very large task seem much less daunting. Our UN advisors were incredibly generous with their time, meeting with us every week and giving us extensive feedback on preliminary drafts of the GCM we submitted throughout the course. Our UN advisors always treated us like colleagues rather than students, and I did not take that trust for granted and feel it really helped our entire team to perform at a high level.
While I do not see myself working for something that is as bureaucratic and stagnant as the United Nations, I am very proud of the work that my team did for UN Women and truly believe that the GCM will make a difference in the lives of at least a handful of migrant women, girls, and LGBTQIA folks.