JMS’s AAJA chapter shines light on Maui's recovery

Wednesday, March 6, 2024
JMS’s AAJA chapter shines light on Maui's recovery
JMS students take a moment to enjoy the beach on Maui.

In December, four students from SDSU’s Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) chapter embarked on a journey to Maui to document and shed light on Lahaina’s ongoing recovery from the devastating fires that hit last August. They named this mission “the Lahaina Project'' and have published three stories in the Daily Aztec about their experiences. The stories touch on the housing crisis, tourism effects and student empowerment. 

The AAJA chapter at SDSU was reinstated just two years ago yet that has not stopped its members from trying to be bold in their vision for what the club can accomplish. JMS journalism major Brittany Cruz-Fejeran is the one who dreamed up the idea of visiting Maui to fulfill journalism's crucial role: informing the public. 

Cruz-Fejeran shared her idea with three fellow JMS students, Sumaia Wegner, Hannah Ly and Petrina Tran, who all enthusiastically embraced the concept. They were drawn to the project's fusion of journalism and service.

Armed with determination and a passion for storytelling, the quartet set foot in Lahaina to gather firsthand perspectives on the fires' aftermath. They conducted interviews with locals on challenging subjects and committed themselves to authentically portraying the ongoing recovery process.

“These stories are hard to tell, but they need to be told,” commented Wegner.

Inspired by the success of the Lahaina Project, the journalists launched the S.T.A.R.T.E.R.S. (Students Traveling Across Regions To Empower, Represent, and Serve) initiative. Their vision is for the club to travel to various regions in the future, reporting on news beyond San Diego. They aim to expand this initiative nationally, involving other AAJA chapters and student groups within JMS.

“It’s really inspiring for us to start out with only 6 members and to create this from the ground up,” Ly said. She hopes that projects like this one will help attract new members, regardless of their racial or ethnic background.

“What meant the most to me was seeing everyone learn all of these lessons and challenging themselves and immersing themselves in indigenous pacific islander culture because it's not something people who are outside of our communities will do,” said Wegner.

“I really feel that having this experience has made us fearless,” Cruz-Fejeran added. 

JMS director Temple Northup, also serving as one of the club's advisors, expresses immense pride in the students' ambition, stating, “this project serves as a great example of how AAJA strives to inspire students to challenge themselves and grow into experienced journalists.” 

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