Last fall, a group of students and faculty adviser Anthony Kammas gathered for meetings in a shady corner of the Carolyn Craig Franklin Garden on the north side of the Doheny Memorial Library. In that open space, subtly echoing the agoras of ancient Greece, the Political Science Undergraduate Association outlined the creation of Ilios.
Their goal, said association member Kevin Lee, was to establish a formal channel for students to have a critical dialogue about pressing political issues. The students envisioned a journal that would capture the spirit of the theoretical and philosophical discussions they often held during Kammas’ office hours.
“Undergraduate academic journals are rare,” Lee said. “We thought this would be a good way to jump-start discussions on political philosophy and political science, especially for students who are planning to continue their careers in academia.”
Lee, who majored in political science and philosophy at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, served as executive editor of the journal for the 2010-11 academic year. He graduated in May.
The first edition of Ilios was published online in April after a months-long publication process mirroring a professional academic journal.
The publication’s editorial board, formed from the association’s membership, issued a call for papers. Members visited classrooms to invite students to submit their writing. They also distributed flyers and posted the call to their Facebook page encouraging original works and papers written for classes. Submissions went through a rigorous peer-review process.
Ilios, which means “sun” in Greek, was chosen as the title of the publication for its myriad shades of meaning: Ilios was the ancient name of Troy in Homer’s Iliad, the epic poem studied by many, including the classical Greek philosopher Socrates. The sun also is used as a central metaphor in Plato’s “The Republic,” which Lee noted in the first issue’s Letter From the Editor, is “arguably the single-most important text in the Western tradition of political philosophy.”
Kammas, assistant professor of political science, coached the editorial board on the nuts and bolts of running a journal. He showed them how to write an acceptance letter and the best way to communicate that a submission has been received. However, he mostly limited his involvement to a supporting role.
“The way I see it is that it should be a student-run, managed and governed association and journal so that their voice really comes through,” Kammas said. They were successful in that regard, he added.
The first issue of Ilios, which was published online to promote easy access, featured four long-form essays and two interviews with USC Dornsife political science professors. The essays covered case studies on the Russia-Chechnya conflicts, an examination of Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophies, a discussion about the failures of the International Criminal Court and an exploration of the symbols of justice in world mythology.
“I was really pleased by it,” Lee said. “I think the editors did a great job, especially for a first publication. We’re all really proud of the results.”
Along with the launch of a student-run journal came the revival of the Political Science Undergraduate Association, an organization that had been dormant for almost five years. Under the direction of Alia Alanizi, 2010-11 president of the association and a political science and international relations major, the group became an officially recognized USC student organization.
“The journal is representative of the kinds of dialogues that we want students to be having about political philosophy and political themes,” said Alanizi, who graduated in May. “As someone who’s very interested in politics, I think that it’s crucial that we have those kinds of conversations.”
In addition to pulling together an exceptional collection of writing, Lee pointed out that Ilios gives readers a special window into students’ insights.
“It’s not often that you get to read what your peers are writing about,” Lee said. “Normally you go to class and turn in your own paper and your professor reads it. It was great to read what other students are writing about and see what they’re interested in.”
This year, Ilios will continue with a new editorial staff: students Damon Alimouri (philosophy, political science), America Hernandez (political science) and Kenia Garcia (political science) will oversee the publication as a committee.
Kammas encouraged students to take an active role in their education by participating in the Political Science Undergraduate Association and offering submissions to the journal.
“This is students’ time, their moment to have a safe place to explore ideas, to take a risk,” he said.
“Politics is an active thing. Taking part in the political life of the political science department, whether it’s through the association or the journal, or both, really fills out a student’s political education.”