INTELLECTUAL SOCIETIES IN COLLEGE: How Philologos is Facilitating Student Growth

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[6 minute read]

This article is an interview with Sean Silvia, a USC Dornsife junior double majoring in History and Archaeology as well as minoring in Classics. He serves as the Vice-President of the Philologos Society, a student-run organization founded in July 2019 at USC by its current President, Richard Petrosyan. Richard is also a USC Dornsife junior majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Health Care Studies. In this interview, Richard and Sean’s discussion focuses on Sean’s experience at Philologos. But before delving into the heart of the interview, allow us to offer you some insight into the Society’s background.

Introducing Philologos

Being unable to find a platform at USC promoting the exchange of ideas, debates of an interdisciplinary nature, and unique opportunities for humanitarian initiatives all-in-one, Richard decided to synthesize these ideals to establish the strong pillars for an intellectual society. The Philologos Society exposes its members to a diversity of academic fields and thought, expands their general knowledge, and helps them develop social consciousness through various altruistic endeavors. Without intertwining classroom development with the outside world, one’s collegiate experience cannot be complete.

Since the Society’s inception in July 2019, Richard has been tirelessly working to ensure its growth within the USC community as well as to establish partnerships with non-profit organizations and educational institutions outside of USC that provide all members with a wide range of opportunities. One of the greatest challenges has been to launch the expansion campaign for Philologos’ activities during the pandemic while having to stay remote, which the society has successfully accomplished.

A year and a half after seeing this Society come to life, we present to you a glimpse into the heart of the university’s one and only intellectual society, USC’s one-of-a-kind vibrant community of students eager to succeed in order to thrive in the midst of one of the extraordinary social contexts of our time.

-Richard Petrosyan, Philologos Society President

Interview with Philiogos Vice President

Q: Sean, would you describe the Philologos Society in your own words?

A: The Philologos Society is a combination of multiple things. It’s essentially an all-in-one intellectual society, with both an academic and philanthropic branch. It aims to enrich both the members and surrounding community with the pursuit of knowledge; we feed people both intellectually and literally with our volunteer service. 

Richard Petrosyan delivering a meal to recipient Steven

Q: How has your involvement with the society affected you?

A: The Society made me approach things from a philosophical angle in a way that I hadn’t before. Within archaeology, I’d done a lot of research projects that were very specific – “Let’s talk about this site- what it means, what’s the specific context.” But within Philologos, we’re encouraged to ask these bigger questions. We address debates within the field. I’ve explored the deeper, more philosophical and ethical side of archaeology- along with other topics, like medicine and journalism – in ways I hadn’t considered before.

It’s been very fun, being able to synthesize big debate topics into easily understandable language and talking about things that you don’t really get discuss to in a more detail-oriented class (like how to deal with the ethical implications of digging up corpses). 

-Sean Silvia, Philologos Vice President

Q: What are your favorite activities?

A: My top activities are definitely writing articles for our column and volunteering.  

I love all the volunteering opportunities – I enjoyed the Meals on Wheels phone reassurance in particular. I also really like the services we provide to high school students. I know as a high schooler, I had really good instructors who set me up well to be where I am today, but not everyone has access to the kinds of resources I did.

Q: Do you have any significant stories to share?

A: There have been some heartwarming moments for sure. During the phone reassurance program, the person I was talking to had said that she’d gotten very little contact because COVID-19 was reducing the number of people she could see, and how nice it was to talk to someone. The question of the week that we were assigned was about music, and she told me about her love of the Backstreet Boys and that she had a cat that would bob along to the rhythm of their songs. I found it heartwarming to be able to bond with this person through our shared love for music.

Fall 2020 Grand Debate with the USC Hybrid High School Debate Club & the Philologos Society

Q: Do you think the Philologos Society has adapted well to the current situation?

A: I think the society adapted to the pandemic very well. We’ve had our weekly meetings over Zoom, have been able to continue our volunteering, and continue to be in contact with the high schools our service is involved with. 

We also started up whole new initiatives, like judging high school debates within the frame of our partnership with the LAMDL [Los Angeles Metropolitan Debate League]. If anything, we’ve actually increased our club activity during the pandemic. For those who can’t deliver in person, we’ve kept doing the phone reassurance program for the participants. Of course, things like article writing and making content for the Youtube channel can all be done remotely. I’d say we’ve adapted ourselves well. We haven’t skipped a beat.  

Q: Where would you like to see the society, going into 2021?

A: Hopefully, once the vaccine comes we’ll be able to have more in-person participation- We’ll have to see what happens on that front. Obviously, that’s the big thing on everyone’s minds, but I really like the way the Society is going. I think we’re on a good trajectory. I think we’ve got a lot of good initiatives, like our creative writing contest we just started this semester, where we’re expanding into other high schools in the area. Between getting more members involved with things like article writing and video creation, we’ve got a lot of really cool stuff going on. I think just by keeping on this trajectory we’re going to end up in a great place for 2021.

Richard Petrosyan and fellow volunteer Jeff in front of Meals on Wheels West building after meal deliveries

Q: How has serving at Philologos impacted your collegiate experience?

A: Thanks to Philologos, I have met many amazing people. Sharing our viewpoints, listening to various perspectives, and collaborating on different projects with people with rich and diverse life experiences has helped me better understand the world surrounding me. All of the different service opportunities, from the phone reassurance program to judging underserved high schooler’s debates, have helped me to grow as a person, and to become a more socially aware citizen. Such introspection has led me to reflect on how I can use my position and experience to tackle the social challenges that the community faces.

For international students who wish to familiarize themselves with discussion through community involvement and intellectual thought, this Society may very well represent the valuable asset they need. If you’re interested in getting involved in the Philologos Society, feel free to visit or their Instagram page (@philologos_usc) to learn more about the variety of their initiatives or to contact them on these platforms!

Featured image depicts guest speaker event at Philologos with Dr. Kenneth Geller, Otolaryngology Surgeon & Director of USC Dornsife Pre-Health

Richard is an undergraduate student majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Health Care Studies. Growing up in France and arriving to the United States in his early teen years, he understands very well the hardships of immersing yourself in a new culture with a new language and new customs. He interacted with multiple immigrant communities both in the US and in France and developed efficient methods of discovering new cultures comprehensively. In his free time, he enjoys playing the piano, working out, learning new languages, and reading books.