Akshina is a second year economics major who is the treasurer of United Nations Student Association – Model United Nations. UNSA is one of the student groups on campus which aim to promote awareness of global issues. I chatted with Akshina on Sunday to find out more about her and UNSA.
What got you interested in UNSA?
I was always interested in international politics and discussing big topics in the world. In high school, I was really scared of public speaking. Model UN has a lot of public speaking. I took that as a challenge.
What was it like when you first joined the club?
It was really hard to be the new member in the group. Everyone was really knowledgeable about global politics and eloquent public speakers. Luckily the president was really helpful in my transitioning into the group. She wrote out the parliamentary procedures, motions and how to do the research for me, so I could start from scratch.
Do you think your international background help you become interested in Model UN?
Definitely, there are a lot international students or domestic students with international background in the Model UN club. There are students from Japan, China, Germany, and France who really contributed a lot with knowledge of their domestic politics.
How did that shape your global perspectives?
It’s really crucial to realize that all cultures are equally important and that sense of equality comes from listening to every perspective in an unbiased way. Sometimes we are asked to play the roles of United States and India at the same time, yet the two countries might have different stands on the same issue. So it’s really important to understand both sides of the story. It shaped me as a more liberal minded person and more accepting of other cultures. For example, a student from a communist country might have a lot of struggles understanding a democratic standpoint, how it works and why it is good.
Did your understanding of communist countries change?
Yes. China is a communist country and my perspective of communism changed after I realized North Korea and Cuba are not the only paradigm of communism. China is doing well as we can see. I thought that China had very little freedom but after being in the Model UN, I realized I was wrong. Chinese government doesn’t control your life choices, and the companies are not as heavily regulated as what’s portrayed. Yes, there is a planned economy, but the market is free too.
How did your experience shape your understanding of the world issues?
We know for a fact that it’s not appropriate to make fun of the North Korea government, like The Interview. The leaders of North Korea have been violating human rights ever since they came into power. Displaying him as a cartoon character rather than a monster is wrong. People need to understand the gravity of the situation rather than laughing at the dictator. Another interesting direction of the story, China and North Korea are allies. In some cases, China would take a less aggressive stand than United States and some people would simply state that China is wrong, but at the same time in global politics, keeping allies is crucial too. There are gray areas in global politics and the important thing is to understand how to navigate the gray area and at the same time do the right thing, e.g. avoiding sending refugees back to North Korea.
Did the different world perspectives among your peers in the Model UN cause any conflict?
My officers are very knowledgeable in global politics, but there were still some instances. Once during a simulation of the Bush Cabinet, a racist comment came across unintentionally. The person was just trying to recreate the situation back then. Still a girl was hurt by that comment because it was insensitive to her religion. The girl ended up talking to the president. Our president assured her that it will never happen again and we gave her a formal apology. What I like about the group is that yes, we might make mistakes because of the controversy of the issue, but we have a conflict resolution regime that helps us make amends.
What do you feel about similar events that might happen in the real world, for example 9/11?
After 9/11, a lot of Muslims were detained, cross-questioned, etc. I totally agree with defense tactics of a country to protect its citizens, which is justified. But in the process many innocents were tortured, which is not justified. How do you find that line between who is innocent and who is not? These things are very difficult to figure out, hence they are very debatable. I feel like because of the past mistakes, people should sincerely apologize.
We all wish that politics could be as easy as Model UN, people can apologize and all is forgiven, but apparently that’s not the case?
I doubt how many people in the real world actually apologize. (Laughing) As Model UN student group, we understand the diversity of our campus and the equality of every culture and that’s why we apologized. For United Nations, respect of other cultures should be an important concept, hopefully that concept is followed.
What do you think about the diversity of our campus?
The diversity of our campus has definitely helped students appreciate other cultures. If we have one culture dominate campus, very few people who don’t belong in that group will definitely be excluded. With a much diverse campus, people get used to the idea that yes, another person might seem a little different than I do, a different skin color for example, but essentially we are all human beings.
Has your perspectives of your home country (India) changed since you’ve come here?
My conception of India hasn’t changed because I was always open to criticizing my country. I would like to see more strict laws against rape or the laws getting exercised in a better manner. Victims in any case should deserve justice. No question such as what clothes the victims were wearing should be asked. Questions should aim to tell the innocent from the guilty instead of shaming the victims. Also education of little boys about women is important. Boys should be educated to respect women.
What do you think your future career might be?
I might do research or get involved with United Nations. I believe that I have a responsibility to help cultures that are underrepresented in UN to get their voice heard. Economic development for underrepresented countries or groups is definitely my passion, also women’s rights, getting women more economically independent, and making underrepresented cultures more economically able, while at the same time, not losing touch with their own cultures.