Rutgers University Model Congress prepares for annual conference
Every year, high school students from the tri-state area and around the country gather for a four-day simulation of Congress, where they learn what it is like to be a part of the most powerful governmental body in the United States.
The Rutgers Model Congress has a different theme every year. This year’s theme is "Protecting Constitutional Rights," – a really important topic for everybody in the country, said executive director Michael Fine.
“Essentially, we're trying to have the students at the conference really think about the potential consequences of every bill they pass in their committees,” he said. “In today's government, we have kind of fallen into a system where Congress tends to pass laws with only passing thought (as) to how they could violate constitutional rights.”
Though some of the links are easier to see than others, all of the topics at the conference can be traced back to constitutional rights in some way, the School of Arts and Sciences senior said.
“For example, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary will be talking about gun rights, which is obviously a second amendment-focused topic, while the House Committee on Education and the Workforce is going to be discussing paid parental leave, which has a more vague due-process connection,” he said.
Preparations for the simulation begin one year in advance. To start, Committee members, directors and delegates are chosen to coordinate and attend the event.
Conference members have been preparing for RMC by recruiting students for the conference, developing each committee's topics, and creating a staff to implement the ideas of the executive board, said Nikita Barde, director of administration and a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
“One thing that surprised me while getting ready for the simulation was how excited individual students were to research topics, debate current political issues and discuss them at the conference,” Barde said. “Seeing as high schoolers can be anywhere from 14 to 18-years-old with limited knowledge about the world around them, it seems as though many of them are curious and eager to learn.”
Priya Kantesaria, director of the Department of Health and Human Services committee for the simulation, has been a director for multiple previous conferences and said that each conference is incredibly unique.
“For our staff, many of the lessons are the same, but a few are different. For me personally, each conference teaches me how to become a better educator,” the School of Arts and Sciences junior said. “Every session we moderate requires us to be impartial, well researched and engaging. And often in our day-to-day lives as overworked college students, those characteristic seem foreign.”
RMC is a major forum for high school students to personally connect with politics, in a way that is both educational and empowering, Kantesaria said. Students represent senators, representative, justices, cabinet leaders and other roles within our government.
“By representing political individuals who share different perspectives than them, they learn more about the diversity present within this country,” she said. “This country is made of millions of individual voices, not only diverse in race or religion, but in ideologies, philosophies and history.”
The selection of students attending the conference from the area is mainly decided by the high schools themselves, Rachel DiSciullo said.
“Sometimes students will sign up unaffiliated from any schools, but they still need to bring chaperones,” the School of Arts and Sciences senior said. “It’s a pretty easy process to get involved, and they don’t need any specific qualifications – it’s pretty much open to anyone.”
During the conference, students get a better understanding for the topics they’re dealing with, she added, and the staff that runs the simulation also hope that they also get a better understanding for the way Congress runs.
Fine said the RMC is a great way to get students civically engaged in an educational system that does not always make civic mindedness a priority.
“It also gives students a great platform for thinking critically about some of the most pressing issues that face our country and form opinions on them and lets them experience defending those opinions in a way that few people do in their everyday lives,” he added.
More members of the public should be aware of events such as RMC because even many adults do not keep up with current events and issues – a fact that Barde said needs to change.
“The future of the country depends on bright, talented individuals such as the ones that attend and host Model Congress conferences, as these individuals have the motivation and dedication to identify crucial issues in the community and make a change,” she said.
Samantha Karas is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and English. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @samanthakaras for more.