San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

AAJA SDSU empowers student journalists to be fearless

The organization’s officers gained irreplaceable skills through an opportunity of their own making
Christie Yeung
AAJA SDSU officers Hannah Ly (vice president), Petrina Tran (social media outreach officer), Sumaia Wegner (President) and Brittany Cruz-Fejeran (secretary) pose for a photo before their trip to Lahaina, Maui.

At 10 p.m. on Oct. 5, I texted the group chat for the Asian American Journalists Association at San Diego State University (AAJA SDSU). I had a crazy idea.

After a conversation with our San Diego chapter president, JoAnn Fields, I wanted to go to Lahaina, Maui, to write about residents affected by the August wildfires. 

Hannah Ly, AAJA vice president, immediately responded, “We are crazy!”

Petrina Tran, social media outreach for AAJA, sent a GIF from the movie “Frozen” that said, “I love crazy!”

Sumaia Wegner, AAJA president, said, “OH SNAP CRACKLE POP RICE KRISPIES,” which we took as a sign of approval.

We later named this initiative “The Lahaina Project.” 

This year’s leadership challenges every student journalist to be bold in their pursuit of field experience. 

Through our project, we proved that we can do whatever we set our minds to. 

My fear was leading the team into something that was a complete waste of time. If I gave in to those thoughts, we never would’ve learned all that we did.

In just two months, we planned a week-long trip to Maui during finals through sheer determination and support from everyone around us.

In preparation, we studied trauma-informed reporting, Lahaina’s history, its current events and historical misconceptions of Hawaiians and their culture to ensure we didn’t repeat those mistakes. 

During our stay, we conducted interviews with indigenous locals, tourists, activists and politicians. We photographed and filmed as much of Lahaina as we could, including the “burn zone.”   

“Never before had I been challenged in so many ways,” Ly said. “Jumping at opportunities and adapting to plans on short notice became second nature.”

Our team learned to plunge at chances without hesitation, such as a sudden invite to the “burn zone.”

We were speechless to see the destruction with our own eyes. Hardened puddles of metal painted a small picture of the blaze that engulfed the city.

We overcame challenges – a sudden invite to the “burn zone,” a historical tour we planned to attend that wasn’t happening anymore, a good source decided against being one out of their safety and some very hot sand. 

Tran said that this experience gave her confidence in her own abilities as a journalist.  

 “One of my favorite parts of the trip was when we’d come back to the apartment in the evening, make dinner, sit and debrief about the day, talk about journalism ethics and how to navigate things or ask professors and mentors for help,” she said.

We challenged ourselves. For Wegner, that challenge was creating a feature story.

“I stick to sports because it is light-hearted,” Wegner said. “However, after this trip, I learned that reporting on hard-hitting news, the things that make you question and wonder why things are the way they are, is needed to make any kind of change.”

Ly, Wegner, Tran and I will make our own paths to being better journalists. Our new program, Students Traveling Across Regions to Empower, Represent and Serve (STARTERS), embodies that. 

Since starting AAJA with my peers in 2022, I wanted to do more than go to a convention and listen to lectures.

Never did I think I would lead us to a trip across the ocean, let alone work with a team that helped me carry the burden of getting us there. 

As students witness the industry scramble for a sustainable business plan, we can’t help but wonder about its future. 

According to a report published by Northwestern Local News Initiative, in 2023 newspapers vanished at an average rate of more than two a week

Locally, we saw San Diego Union-Tribune journalists accept buyouts after it was sold to hedge fund Alden Global Capital. 

As the industry evolves in ways we cannot predict, it is essential to be bold in how we find our stories. 

AAJA didn’t go to “save” anyone. We acknowledge that our stay was for our own benefit regardless of the volunteer work we did. Trips into indigenous lands should be handled with respect and sensitivity. Informed consent was at the forefront of every conversation.

Thank you to our mentors and advisors for guiding us. Our biggest thanks go to the people of Lahaina who shared their lives with us and treated us like family. This trip taught us to be fearless and crazy ideas can become a life-changing adventure.

About the Contributors
Brittany Cruz-Fejeran
Brittany Cruz-Fejeran, Senior Staff, '22-23 Photo Editor
Brittany Cruz-Fejeran (she/her/hers) is a journalism major minoring in history. She was born and raised on Guam before coming to San Diego to pursue her education in 2016. She was the Editor-in-Chief at The Southwestern College Sun and has a passion for photography. Brittany loves playing video games, particularly ones that hold strong narratives such as The Last of Us series and the Ori games. Whilst in school, she is a freelance photographer for inewsource, CalMatters, Voice of San Diego, and the San Diego Union Tribune, having previously interned with VOSD and the SDUT. Brittany’s biggest goal is to represent her island and tell stories of underrepresented communities.
Christie Yeung, Photographer
Born in Hong Kong, Christie Yeung is a first-generation transfer student who majors in journalism at San Diego State University. Prior to arriving at SDSU, she served as the Gaming/Tech Editor, Features Editor and Managing Editor of SAC Media at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California where she was placed in on-the-spot competitions such as fourth in News photo, second in Portrait photo, first in Sports photo, first in Social Media and second in News writing, along with a meritorious mention in the Enterprise News Story/Series category from Journalism Association of Community Colleges. She was also awarded second in Best Breaking News Stories by the California College Media Association. During her free time, she likes to watch European soccer games, read, listen to Cantonese-pop music and play video games and Dungeons & Dragons with her online friends. She also has a sweet tooth and cannot turn away anything with Nutella in it.