Pizza + Politics event sparks debate
On a campus widely considered to be apolitical, a Student Senate initiative sought to start politically charged conversation and disagreement with the first iteration of Pizza + Politics on Wednesday.
The event, which garnered 177 responses out of nearly 1,300 invites on Facebook, filled two-thirds of the roundtables in Rangos 3, with each table designated a student or faculty facilitator to engage and mediate participant discussion with guided questions, and a box of pizza.
Facilitators included adjunct professor Mary Jo Miller, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Renee Camerlengo, junior chemical engineering major Michael Wesley Booker II, junior history major Ashley Sobhani, junior psychology and French double major Siriana Abboud, Senate Chair and junior information systems major Evan Wineland, senior global studies major Julia Constantine, Assistant Director of Student Life David Chickering, Coordinator of Gender Programs and Sexual Violence Prevention Jess Klein, adjunct professor Colin Clarke, and Teaching Professor of Political Science and International Relations Silvia Borzutzky.
The topic of the event was “The Right to be Offensive: What can we take away from Charlie Hebdo and The Interview?” and discussion launched right away and lasted the full hour, with each table taking a different track in group conversation.
Students pondered Sony’s The Interview as an example of free speech and North Korea’s response as a threat to that expression.
“These regimes survive on keeping tight control on their image,” said junior economics and statistics major Guillermo Marce-Santurio. “This movie makes them seem weak.”
Conversation also focused on the attack at Charlie Hebdo. Facilitator Abboud posed the question, when making an incendiary statement, “Do I have a responsibility to the safety of the people around me?”
Junior mechanical engineering major Paul Kioko echoed Abboud’s question: “Before you say something, are you thinking about possible reactions?”
Toward the end of discussion, facilitators shifted conversation toward expression on campus: Should college students enjoy the same rights on campus as the rest of America?
“This is a private institution, and when I agreed to come to CMU, I agreed to follow the rules they have,” Marce-Santurio said.
“Being in society has an inherent loss of rights to it,” said junior business major Hodei García. “I will give up my right to kill you so you don’t kill me.”
According to Wineland, who spearheaded the event, Pizza + Politics is a response to Herbert Simon’s concept of “poverty of attention,” by which an overabundance of external stimuli causes people to tune out important global events.
“There is a culture of apathy on campus,” Wineland said. But beyond tackling political inattention, Wineland said the program is also an attempt to foster connections between Senate and the student body.
“We’ve always sought to engage with students,” Wineland said, comparing Pizza + Politics to past town hall meetings, which he said were not as well received. About achieving this level of engagement, Wineland said, “It doesn’t have to be that complicated. It can be simple — as simple as a conversation.”
“We were all excited and we got the word out,” said junior computer science major and School of Computer Science senator Gail Wilson, who attended and helped organize the event. “We got great facilitators.”
“I thought it was encouraging,” Wilson said. “I learned a lot from it.”