Pizza & Politics: Three Decades of a Communication Tradition
Updated: May 29
It began as many college traditions do—with a group of students and faculty, a common passion, and of course, pizza. This is how the Department of Communication Studies founded Pizza & Politics (P&P), a series of weekly meetings that starts with discussing current events and ends with sharing a slice.
Originating in 1986, P&P has drawn regulars from the Emerson community and beyond. Every Tuesday, students, faculty members, trustees, professionals, alumni and more meet at 12:00 pm, to analyze a selected topic.
“[Pizza & Politics] is one of the few spaces where people disagree, but they also respect each other,” says Dr. Gregory Payne, chair and associate professor of Communication Studies, who had a piece of that first pie in 1986. “So that’s what is exciting because, as the Department of Communication Studies it’s good, especially in such divisive times, to foster communication.”
The series was actually revamped during the 2020 fall semester, having been put on hold following the shift to remote learning under covid restrictions. Payne was determined to sustain the tradition in a virtual forum, even without the usual sharing of pizza. Instead, each discussion would now end with a special, pizza-awarding ceremony.
“At the end, we do a spin and whoever’s name comes up gets a pizza,” Payne explains. “We literally have had pizzas delivered in Costa Rica, Nepal, and Germany,” (which comes as little surprise, given the Communication Studies department’s reputation for global public diplomacy). “We have found out that Domino’s is a worldwide brand. When we're talking about very serious issues, it's very intriguing at the very end to see who wins the pizza.”
A student director of the series, public relations major Zarina Levitsky ’23, said the group has challenged her thinking and expanded her connections.
“I love that there is space for open dialogue,” Levitsky said. “As a student looking to network and make connections, P&P is also a great opportunity for that. The speakers and participants are professors, alumni, and other important people from a variety of different fields. It is a great opportunity to make those connections and at the same time participate in incredible dialogue or listen to people who actually know what they are talking about.”
Not every P&P features a guest speaker, but over the years hundreds of esteemed professionals, faculty and students have led discussions. One of the recent February topics—“Ukrainian Crisis: Russians' Collective Responsibility and the Possibility of a Nuclear Conflict”—presented the insights of Pavel Slutskiy, a Russian native and associate professor of public relations at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand.
Students like political communication major Trinitee Stokes ’25 have also conducted discussions. Stokes became the youngest student to ever attend Emerson when she enrolled for the past fall semester. She said two of the main reasons she committed to Emerson were the political communication program and opportunities like P&P. Since her acceptance, Stokes was able to immerse herself in her studies while also pursuing her diplomatic aspirations.
“After attending the first meeting, I fell in love,” Stokes says. “In the world today, it can be harder to communicate with others who have different political views… Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it gets pretty heated, but we'll discuss our opinions without trying to convince the other person to agree with us, which is invaluable.”
Stokes has been attending Pizza & Politics meetings since she committed to attending Emerson in the spring of 2021. In the fall semester, she led a discussion on the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.
“It was important to share my perspective on this story as one of the major black participants in the group,” Stokes said. “There were a lot of comments around [Floyd’s] murder that were true and false. So I wanted to speak on the topic to give participants a non-biased, fact-based view of the story. I also wanted to empower the group and discuss both the negative and positive impacts of his death.”
The popularity of Pizza & Politics has inspired a new course, which will be introduced next year. Payne said the newly minted Global Public Dialogue will include an hour of P&P each week. Students in the classroom will be able to engage with the rest of the group via Zoom.
Payne, Levitsky and Stokes encourage students and faculty to join P&P. The Zoom meeting address is the same each week, always open to all participants and allows opportunities for each individual to comment or question if they wish.
Through its various adaptations and formats, Pizza & Politics endures, providing a constructive, open learning environment for participants worldwide. And, of course, P&P will continue to send Domino’s or wherever you get your pizza, wherever you are.
(Image via Adobe Stock)