Beginning in Fall 2010, a small group of students and their 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 (PSUA) plotted the creation of Ilios.
Their goal, said PSUA member Kevin Lee, was to establish a formal channel for students to have a critical dialogue about pressing political issues. They envisioned a student 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 jumpstart 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 in USC Dornsife, served as executive editor of the journal for the 2010–11 academic year and graduated in May.
The first edition of Ilios was published online in April 2011 after a months-long publication process mirroring a professional academic journal.
The publication’s editorial board, formed from PSUA’s membership, issued a call for papers. Members of PSUA visited classrooms to invite students to submit their writing. They distributed flyers and posted the call to their Facebook page encouraging both papers written for classes and original works. 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 is also used as a central metaphor in Plato’s Republic, which Lee notes in the inaugural issue’s “Letter from the Editor” is “arguably the single most important text in the Western tradition of political philosophy.” Not to mention, Ilios is run by undergraduates at the University of Southern California, home of the Trojans.
Kammas, assistant professor of political science, who had served as managing editor for East European Politics and Societies, 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 their voice really comes through,” Kammas said. They were very successful in that regard, he added.
The first issue of Ilios, which was published in electronic form 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 on 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 PSUA, an undergraduate political science organization housed in USC Dornsife’s Department of Political Science. PSUA had been dormant for almost five years. Under the direction of Alia Alanizi, president of the association for 2010–11 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 also gives readers a special window into students’ insights.
“It’s not often that you get to read what your peers are writing about,” said Lee. “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 on 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 encourages students to take an active role in their education by participating in PSUA and submitting 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.”
Perhaps the quote from Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra inscribed on the dedication page of the inaugural issue of Ilios will be a catalyst for students to actively participate in the publication of the journal: “One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a student.”
Read Ilios and learn more about the Political Science Undergraduate Association on the PSUA Web site. Students who are interested in contributing to the journal can also learn more about submitting their work for publication consideration.