Students bite into politics and pizza

people gathered around a table listening to a man speak
Jacob Thompson, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, enjoys the opportunity to hear from multiple political perspectives. (Anik Panja | Daily Trojan)

What is the biggest change that has occurred in the political landscape? What is the process behind writing a speech for the President? How has the dynamic of news reporting changed with the rise of social media? Is there more pizza? 

These are just some of the questions students ask at Pizza and Politics, an event series hosted by the Center for the Political Future on selected Wednesdays. This semester, students can expect to meet CPF fellows such as Emmy and Peabody award winner Hank Plante, former district attorney for Los Angeles Ira Reiner and former White House senior speechwriter John McConnell.

Kamy Akhavan, executive director of CPF, said he took pride in providing the rare opportunity for the student body to meet the fellows at the Center. Akhavan said the ultimate objective of the series was to “bring national politics alive on the USC campus.”

“We wanted to make these political figures that you see on television very accessible to students so you can talk to them, ask them questions, have casual conversation over pizza and learn about current events in a very nonthreatening, fun environment,” Akhavan said.

CPF is mindful about presenting a range of political ideologies in every Pizza and Politics event that students can benefit from, Akhavan said. In one event, speakers ranged from a Republican speechwriter to a Democrat district attorney.   

“We don’t want to skew responses towards a particular ideology,” Akhavan said. “The idea is to challenge people with their own thoughts so they can flex their opinions muscles and strengthen them and leave the event feeling like [they were] challenged and validated.”

Jacob Thompson, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, said the variety of discussions that CPF fellows are putting on the table is what makes the Pizza and Politics series rewarding. After seeing a sign about the Pizza and Politics event a few semesters earlier, Thompson said he was interested by the idea of communicating with well-known politicians and gaining insightful perspectives. 

“The environment is really relaxed,” Thompson said. “I think my favorite part is coming in here and getting to sit down and converse and see both sides of the [conversation] and hear different perspectives.” 

Asked to describe the event in three words, John McConnell, a CPF Spring 2023 Parikh Family Fellow, replied: “Good for everybody” — students and fellows alike.

“I always enjoy meeting with students, and I always enjoy getting a chance to talk a little bit about what I know,” said McConnell, who served as senior speechwriter for former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney. “Just as importantly, I want to know about them, where they’re from, what they’re studying and what is generally on their minds when it comes to the issues facing the country … so it’s a great opportunity to have a very comfortable, low key exchange of thoughts and ideas.”

The organized and routine nature of Pizza and Politics has expanded McConnell’s outreach to the USC community and allowed him “to cross paths to more students than [he] would have met otherwise”.

Akhavan said that the Center has improved in gaining more student engagement and participation in the past two years and hopes to expand their program to a larger student audience.

“The room today was very busy,” Akhavan said. “Two years ago, there was maybe five or ten people in the room. Today it seemed like there was closer to thirty. We want more people to come and experience what this is all about and if they like it, keep coming back, invite their friends, do it more … We want to outgrow where this is taking place. That’s the real improvement that we would like to have.”