All posts by student

To protect and to serve for more than 20 years

Going into this second project, our group decided to focus on a topic that is more fun, active, and something that we thought students would really enjoy learning more about. The one-unit racquetball class attracts a significant amount of students each quarter, but most students don’t know that their lecturer not only works outside of Cal Poly as a lieutenant with the SLO Police Department, but also freely volunteers his time to teach the class. With these interesting facts in mind, we decided to focus on Proll and how the racquetball class would not exist without him.

However, we did not start off thinking that this would be our focus. Initially, we wanted to talk about the role of volunteer lecturers in general and how they contribute to the Cal Poly environment. We were hoping to speak with administration and get a full outline of the qualifications, expectations, requirements, and logistics involved with volunteer part-time lecturers. What we quickly began to find is that very few people know anything about this position.

“We were unable to find a list or anyone in administration who was aware of how many volunteers there are. Because of this difficulty, we narrowed our story to focus more on Bill Proll and his racquetball class.” -Sophia Levin, print

Part of our inspiration came from a Mustang News story from back in 2007 on Bill Proll. It was exciting to learn that he has been volunteering for more than 20 years, allowing the racquetball class to go on. And when our group interviewed Proll, he showed no signs of quitting anytime soon.

“I don’t see any reason why I would stop,”

Proll told us when we interviewed him at the Recreation Center.

“Something might come up but I don’t plan on leaving here. I’ve worked for the police department now for 33 years so I don’t know how much longer I’ll do that but, this I would continue even after I retire from there.”

Group member James Tweet going up against Bill Proll (photo by Amanda Newell)

Our whole group was present for our interview with Proll which took place directly after he finished teaching his Monday morning racquetball class. Since we have a video component as part of this story, group member James Tweet worked with the Recreation Center to get permission to film inside.

“A lot of student journalists have had issues with reporting on the premise. I went in and explained my project and filled out a request form, it wasn’t anything too gnarly. When we went in to film, there was some bureaucracy we had to deal with to talk to the highest person in charge available at the time. Besides that, it was pretty straightforward, a little intimidating at times, but totally I respect and understand their cautiousness because of student liability.” -James Tweet, broadcast

Group members Sophia Levin and Laura Hoover getting footage (photo by Amanda Newell)

Once inside, James, and fellow group members Amanda Newell and Sophia Levin, photographed and filmed students playing racquetball and had Proll demonstrate some of his skills.

“Interviewing Bill Proll was great. It can be intimidating to have four journalism students filming and interviewing you, but I felt that he really opened up to us by the end of his interview and shared great insight about his last 20 years here at Cal Poly.” -Amanda Newell, multimedia

Group members Laura Hoover, James Tweet, and Sophia Levin interviewing Bill Proll at the Recreation Center (photo by Amanda Newell)

Amanda and Sophia interviewed a few students who stayed after class to get their thoughts on Proll and his volunteer work. We left the Recreation Center with great footage, photos, and successful interviews. Not only did we learn a thing or two, but this project proved to be fun as well!

Just keep digging: Cal Poly caveman builds “art” caves for self-expression, family and a search for a deeper connection to the earth

Most professors spend their free time researching, spending time outside, or enjoying the day with family and friends. But Leland Swenson, a Cal Poly psychology professor, digs manmade caves. He has spent the majority of his free time in last 20 years digging and customizing “art” caves beneath his property in SLO County, California.

Once I heard about these caves, I went to my group members and asked if they would be interested on doing a story on Swenson and his impressive, and odd, hobby. Once they agreed and our topic was approved, I told Swenson it was a “go” and we planned an informal tour.

On our way to the caves, we were really curious about what it would be like. We weren’t sure if it would be dark, cold, or crammed. Mostly, though, we were excited because it was impossible to predict what we would see. It was the sort of adventure you couldn’t plan for because no one could tell you much about it. You just had to go. “The most exciting part of the project was definitely the tour of the cave. I heard about it before and honestly didn’t know what to expect. When I went down there, I was blown away,” Josh Munk said. Though we can’t take our readers for an in-person tour, we hope our reporting efforts give this bizarre art project justice.

Sara Portnoy working on the editorial piece for this story.
Sara Portnoy working on the editorial piece for this story.

During the first moments in the cave, I felt like I was looking into someone’s journal. The art on the walls felt very intimate yet whimsical and fun. In a way, it reminded me of the home the animated Flintstones family lived in, though Swenson’s caves were more colorful. Swenson’s explanations of each piece were highly unpredictable, too. When he would point to an art piece, before talking about it, I would try to guess what he would say. I was always off. The art was just as unpredictable as the caves.

What Swenson calls the "anti-drug god." According to Swenson, his job is to make sure that anyone who tries illicit substances down here, or abuses substances, has a bum trip."
The anti-drug god. “His job is to make sure that anyone who tries illicit substances down here, or abuses substances, has a bum trip,” Swenson said.

“I think the most exciting part was getting to actually see the caves in person. When he’s telling you about it, I couldn’t really imagine it but going through it’s really awesome to see all the detail that goes into it,” said Laura Daniele. Swenson said that no one who has visited the caves has been disappointed. Now we know why.

Reporters, and friends, shuffle through the cave to find another unexpected room.
Reporters, and friends, shuffle through the cave to find another unexpected room.

When people hear the term “caves,” a clear picture doesn’t always come to mind. Being a modern caveman is unusual and initially raises a lot of eyebrows. However these caves are more elaborate than you might expect; not only because of how large the caves are but because of the artwork found at every turn. At one moment, you’re looking at a clay mythical god; at another, you’re looking at a clay moose with a heart and arrow above it. “One Valentine’s Day I decided I didn’t want to just do a perishable card and Debby’s favorite animal is the moose. So I created a valentine moose and on Valentine’s Day I took her down here and said ‘Here is your valentine,’” said Swenson. The individual art pieces may seem random at first glance but all were created with intent and have deep meaning. The strange items around the cave, like the skull collection that makes up the cave’s first room, are what give the caves the funky character around every corner.

Swenson Caves 1
Laura Daniele interviews Professor Leland Swenson in his cave approximately 20 feet below ground.

“I really enjoyed getting to meet the person that actually has this reputation of building the caves. Each of the rooms seemed really sentimental to him and it’s really amazing to see somebody spend so much time on a project that symbolizes what they’re about,” said Sara Portnoy. Indeed, Swenson has poured his soul into this project. It is not only his creative outlet but a place his family can gather. His search for a deeper connection with the earth, along with his love for others, is what makes the caves such a sacred place to explore.

The Insider’s Scoop on The Emerging Sour Beer Trend

The question I bet you’re asking if you don’t already know: what is sour beer? Well, I’ll get there, but you will have to wait.

Brainstorming the topic of sour beer was something that took more than a little thought for our group. Once we all came to the conclusion that going downtown San Luis Obispo was an itch we all needed to scratch, there came the idea of sour beers. This was based off of The Libertine, a new brewery in downtown SLO. We were all pretty excited, “Put any beer in front of me and I’ll drink it,” said group member Marie Leleu.

Can you blame her? Any college student would feel that way. At this point, we were all eager to get started.

So, lets get into the nitty and gritty of finding out facts about sour beers and creating our story.

Alright Alright, you twisted my arm. Sour Beer is an intentionally acidic or tart beer that leaves you with a more “sour” taste. There are a wide variety of sour beer ranging from flavor to fermentation. When our group got an official definition, we dove right in to wanting to know about the behind the scenes of making sour beer.

We started to chat with people in the Cal Poly Community and those who had experience with breweries to see what people wanted to know about sour beers– if anything. A lot of what we found was that people either didn’t know what it was or they didn’t have a clue where to find it.

Don’t you worry, we were on it. We set up a meeting with one of the brewers at The Libertine, Dan Miller. When we first walked up to him, he was standing in between something that looked like this:

Image Courtesy:
Image Courtesy:

You could say the interview was under-whelmingly casual. What we did come to find was that Dan knew so much about the history and production of the beer.

What is the difference of “regular beer” from “sour beer” you ask? Well Dan had the answer, “The thing that separates us [Libertine] from clean beer breweries, is that we cool it down quickly and then put it in an open top fermentation vessel for about 2-3 days.” So, it’s all about the fermentation.

Now you would think that the two types of beers are very similar from what he said, however sours are also closely related to wine production. How? Sour beers are aged in oak barrels for a varied amount of time before they are brought back into retail spaces which is similar to wine. Below is a look into how The Libertine ages its beers.

Image Courtesy: Beer and Brewing
Image Courtesy: Beer and Brewing

You can imagine our group as starry-eyed journalists when we found out there was so much more that goes into the production of this beer. Group member Rachel Mesaros said, “It’s definitely a major commitment and clearly takes time to master.”

We wanted to tell people why it is the way it is because, well, our first impression of this story was just:

Image Courtesy: TripAdvisor
Image Courtesy: TripAdvisor

But, we wanted to give you guys the best insight to the sour beer trend. So, our group talked to people from BarrelHouse Brewery and MadeWest Brewery which are both located on the Central Coast. We were lucky that everyone was very easy to talk to and ready with a wealth of knowledge.

We uncovered that there are 6 main types of sours and about three main types of bacteria found in sour beers. Not only did we get to talk to interesting people, but we got to know more about something our whole group was curious about.

Also– Can you believe I did not even have one sour beer while covering this story? I can’t. Don’t worry, that’s next on my list.

Until next time folks~

An inside look at Cal Poly’s student activism

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of reporting and scrambling for sources; but already, our group’s dynamic and reporting abilities have strengthened tremendously.

Our group decided to cover Cal Poly’s student activism for our first project; specifically, we wanted to investigate whether or not student activism has increased within the past year. When reaching out to the community, other students, like ourselves, noticed an increase in protests on campus.

“The political climate on campus has changed so much. When I was freshman, I don’t think I ever saw a student protest,” political science senior Hannah Quitugua said. “I feel like everything has really just kind of erupted and people are protesting and becoming a lot more active in that way, which I definitely think is reminiscent to the ‘60s.”

Our group member, Laura Hoover, discussing her broadcast storyboard ideas.
Our group member, Laura Hoover, discussing her broadcast storyboard ideas.

Ideally, we wanted to interview as many student activist groups as possible– like Students for Quality Education (SQE) and Queer Student Union (QSU– along with an administrator, a Women’s & Gender Studies professor, and several student activists.  We began by engaging with these communities via Reddit, Facebook and in person.

We quickly realized however that our story reporting would not go as smoothly as we had thought (but honestly, when is it ever 100% problem-free). Many of the activists groups we wanted to feature in our article did not want to talk to us. They did not like the way Mustang News had covered them in articles in the past, and because of this unexpected obstacle, finding activists that would participate was extremely difficult.

“We had a lot of difficulty with finding sources that were willing to talk to us in the beginning. Although we found an administrator and students to talk to right away, student activists were either unwilling or unresponsive,” Sophia Levin, our multimedia group member said. “In the last few days, we were able to find student activist sources who were willing to do interviews, but it made our story a little more rushed than we might have liked it to be.”

Additionally, the Mustang News article published in Monday’s edition complicated things quite a bit; it ended any hope that the unresponsive student activists groups would contact us. By Wednesday however, we were able to interview both a student activist and the president of Cal Poly Democrats.

President of Cal Poly Democrats Club, senior Liana Riley, presents at their meeting Tuesday morning.
President of Cal Poly Democrats Club, senior Liana Riley, presents at their meeting Tuesday morning.

“Despite difficulty getting in contact with a willing source, my interview with the president of Cal Poly Democrats, Liana Riley, produced the responses I had hoped for,” Laura Hoover, our group member covering the broadcast portion of this project, said. “My video successfully connects Liana’s thoughts on activism, the rise in campus protests in the past year, and footage of recent activist events on and off campus.”

After pushing past these obstacles, our group learned how to handle reporting on sensitive topics, like social justice and student activism. We did not anticipate the topic being as sensitive as it proved to be, but we adjusted to this along the way.

“This story brings up a lot of political and social opinions, which makes things sensitive, especially for interviews. When this is the case, I believe, as a writer, asking the sources general questions helps to avoid feeding into possible biases and feelings,” James Tweet, our group’s editorial reporter, said. “Along with that, I find it key to ask these same general questions to all the sources so that they can all chime in and give different perspectives on one question. By asking these same questions, the themes tend to organically come out of the sources themselves.”

Three weeks into the quarter, we are already becoming better journalists, and we are excited for our next challenge ahead.

Group members, Sophia Levin and James Tweet, working hard to meet our story deadline.
Group members, Sophia Levin and James Tweet, working hard to meet our story deadline.

Exploring Romantic Student-Professor Relationships at Cal Poly

Before our group decided to cover this topic, it was originally brought up in passing as kind of a funny idea, but was quickly passed by. We mulled over different topics that were far less interesting, and when pitched them to our Brady. After each pitch was shut down for many  valid reasons, he asked us if we had anything else. The group sat in silence for a few moments until one member, Audra Wright, chose to speak up and pitch the Student-Professor dating story. Brady started laughing hard and simply said, “Yes”. From there we knew we had something.

With our topic decided, we now faced the task of finding sources for a story that absolutely nobody wanted to be associated with. Initial attempts at reaching out with students and faculty were met with a lot of apprehension, as well as a strange comment from a former manager. Overall, each group seemed to feel like they were being coaxed into a witch hunt, the complete opposite of what our goal was.

Some of the responses received from my post to the Class of 2017 Facebook page were hilarious, and you should check them out. Below is a response from one of the professors we ended up interviewing, and a link to the Cal Poly subreddit page with a similar posting.

Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 5.51.31 PM

Student-Professor Romantic Relationships At Cal Poly/Universities from CalPoly

Even with all the lukewarm feedback, we managed to secure sources on the grounds of professional opinions, not experience. At this point, the group realized we may have to narrow our story’s focus down to the policy of student-professor relationships and the grey area involved. It seemed like even that aspect of the topic got people stirred enough to want to talk about it.

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 12.36.30 AM

Laura Daniele, said she saw this as a good reason to keep going with this story, as follows:

“I had never considered the fact that a relationship could be so controversial. Hearing so many different perspectives on student/professor relationships really helps me understand why it is a hard topic to talk about, but why it is one we need to talk about.”

As a sidetone we did also interview a student who had met a professor on tinder, but once she started telling her story, she let us know that it happened a.) In Germany and b.) With a professor in no way affiliated with Cal Poly.  She did still have some interesting viewpoints on the subject as a whole but unfortunately, the SD card on the camera we recorded her with was corrupted and the entire interview was lost. A lesson learned from that experience was to always back up a video interview with a voice recording, so that at least we could have salvaged a quote or two from it.

As Audra Wright, the group member covering the broadcast portion of this project put it,

”This project definitely had its challenges. For example, we were able to find a student who was willing to share her experience of a fling with a non-Cal Poly professor. We met up with her at a local coffee shop, filmed her, and the interview exceeded our expectations. Unfortunately, the AP card was corrupted and the footage couldn’t be retrieved. Though it was miserably unfortunate, it was a learning experience.”

Luckily, we had some really great interviews lined up in addition to that one, and the interview that I thought was the best was our interview with Professor Loving.

Professor Loving waits for his interview while Audra Wright sets up the camera.
Professor Loving gets ready for the interview while Audra Wright sets up the camera.

Although I knew Professor Loving was going to deliver, having taken some of my most memorable classes with him throughout the years at Cal Poly, he exceeded all of our expectations. He clearly explained the legal and ethical sides of the dating policy in a soft-spoken and eloquent manner. I’m sure Audra will have a hard time cutting down the 20 minute interview into 90 seconds, and Cal Poly will definitely miss having Loving around going forward.

This story was a lot of fun to work on and I think Sara Portnoy, working the Multimedia aspect of this project, summed it up best when she said,

“Being able to hear so many perspectives from students, professors, and administrators about the CSU Policy for Consensual Relationships really allowed me to see why this topic, that’s considered taboo and controversial, needs to be looked at through many points of view.”

It will be very interesting to see more reactions if this story happens to make it into Mustang News, but overall our group is just happy we got to break some new ground on a topic not previously covered.

Four journalism students walk into a barn…

So far this quarter, my group had our fair share of heavy topics. Up until this project, we were covering the kind of stories that required empathy (Deaf students at Cal Poly), data analyzation (computer science faculty retention) and difficult sources (Black Student Union).  These projects were tedious. No doubt we felt tuckered out. Discouraged. Unmotivated.

For our next story, it was time to let down our hair down. It was time to run into the wild, open and abundant planes of Cal Poly…

Just off the beaten path, Cal Poly is home to sprawling acres of hills, dirt and animals.
Just off the beaten path, Cal Poly is home to sprawling acres of hills, dirt and animals.

I mean really. What better way to end the quarter than with a story about pigs.

I had the idea. I remember when I first came to Cal Poly around age 6, it was to visit my family friend who “worked with the pigs.” My aunt and uncle drove me out to this deserted area on campus that smelled so bad. There was mud and I just remember I didn’t want to get out of the car.  Then I saw baby piglets. I didn’t believe in love at first sight until then.

Fast forward to now and I understand better. My family friend was an animal science major who was also a student resident manager for the Cal Poly Swine Unit.

Somehow I convinced Julia, Olivia and Veronica that this was a good idea and so we proceeded with the story topic.

“I didn’t know living in the swine unit was an option, so it was really interesting to see how Matt and Logan live,” group member Julia Morris said. 

After a quick Google search, I found this Mustang News article from 2012.  I decided we should still proceed with the story because the article published in 2012 lacked more than just multimedia. It didn’t portray the swine unit I had visited when I was 6 years old and continue to visit now during long runs at Cal Poly.

Finding the sources was easy. After a simple post to the Cal Poly Class of 2017 page, we found Logan and Matt. Their profile pictures reminded me of something I would see on

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 3.29.58 PM Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 3.30.25 PM

The process was easy once they agreed to be our sources for the story. They were beyond helpful.

While filming for her broadcast piece, Olivia captured the pigs getting out and then breaking an irrigation pipe, which made for compelling footage.

“So I went to the swine unit and got great footage of Logan and lots of pigs and piglets. But I also got great footage of pigs breaking out of a pen (then being herded back in) and a pig breaking a pipe and water spraying everywhere,” Doty said.

Julia was interested in the story because the boys explained to her the skills they’ve gained from their experience in the swine unit goes beyond agriculture and has made them more responsible young men. 

As a team, we hope that we can leave JOUR 462 on a humorous note. I think covering a feature on the swine unit did just that.

Discovering what it means to be polyamorous

Peter had the golden idea.

He came to us and said he had heard of a group of four students at Cal Poly in a polyamorous relationship– one guy is dating three girls and two of those girls are also dating each other. He knew they kept a contract and were pretty open about their relationship.

Woah. How could we not do a story on this?

All of us grew up in a household and in a society that promotes monoamory. Infidelity is frowned upon. Adultery is a sin. Staying committed and faithful is a value that I would argue most people have.

Yet, millennials– especially college students– live in a modern dating culture that accepts casual hookups, encourages emotional games and teaches us that whoever can prove that they care less in a relationship has the upper hand.

We got to thinking. Could the two be related? Could this polyamorous relationship foreshadow the future of college dating culture?

After searching through the archives, we found that Mustang News had done one story about open relationships in the past but nothing about polyamory. So, we took on the challenge and set out to find some answers.

We first interviewed a political science professor, Ren Den Otter, who has done substantial research about monogamy and he enlightened us that there really has not been much research about polyamorous relationships, possibly because it’s not widely accepted or known.

“Multi-person relationships are not only not legally recognized in the United States,” Den Otter said. “All states have laws that, to more or lesser extend, criminalize aspects of multi-person relationships.”

We interviewed Professor Teresa Downing next who echoed that social science community knows very little about polyamory.

Neither professor could expertly speak to the relationship between polyamory and college dating culture. But, Downing had done extensive research about the “hookup culture” and brought up concerns about the safety behind the groups sexual endeavors– something we had not yet thought about.

We also interviewed a college student who was once in an open relationship and no longer is. But, the story got really interesting once we sat down with the “polycule”– a term that the polyamorous group uses to identify themselves.

“Meeting the ‘polycule’ and learning about their relationship was a really cool experience because the idea of polyamory was so foreign to me before and I had no idea what to expect,” Madison Agatha Mancebo said.

Watching the group interact was fascinating to all of us. We set up our interview so the man in the group would sit in between his two girlfriends. Both of his ladies lovingly gazed at him, rubbed his leg and talked openly about their relationship. We could not sense any jealousy or animosity between the women. They are friends.

Cecilia takes video of the group’s natural interactions.

“Watching their dynamic was enlightening. I was impressed that they could pull off such a complex relationship,” Peter Gonzalez said.

The polycule walked us through how their relationship came to be, and the rules and logistics that guide their relationship, as expressed in a not-so-strict contract they all share. Consent and communication– that’s how they make it work.

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 2.00.36 PM
This contract was created with the polycule was forming. It is no longer strictly followed but some rules and values are still carried out in their relationship today.

“I was so surprised by how comfortable they were with each other. It was very refreshing to see such mature young people doing what they want,” Cecilia Seiter said.

After the interview concluded, we all looked at each other in awe. It was nothing like what we expected.

Through this story, we learned a hell of a lot about relationships, love and dating. It inspired us to look for similarly interesting stories that have not been done before. And, it reminded us of why we got started with journalism in the first place.


Behind the scenes: A glimpse into the Cal Poly film culture

Hello! My name is Maggie Hitchings, and my group and I have spent the last week and a half investigating and reporting on student filmmakers. One of our group members, Barbara Levin, is enrolled in a Cal Poly class titled ISLA 341, “Cinematic Process.” We decided to do a feature story on the students in this class, as they are currently creating short fiction films to be shown at the SLO International Film Festival on March 15.

Promotional poster for the student films

Initially, we bounced around various ideas surrounding this class and  the film culture at Cal Poly. One topic our group was interested in was whether or not there should be a film major at Cal Poly, and not just the ISLA minor. After talking to peers and posting on social media, I found that students have a big interest in the filmmaking process, and would like to see a film major here. Additionally, the Cal Poly community wanted to know more about ISLA 341 and the behind the scenes that goes on when creating short films.

Clara Knapp, who wrote the news editorial for this project, learned a surprising  amount about the creativity and hard work that goes into these films.

“This project was interesting for me because as a broadcast journalist, I tend to focus on more hard-hitting, straightforward forms of journalism. However, learning about the artistic short films these students have created is really inspiring. It makes me wish that I had taken this class while I still had time! This class is definitely a hidden gem at Cal Poly,” said Knapp.

As we continued to explore this topic, we felt it was important to show the talent and creativity the students in this class have, as we are a predominantly technical school. Barbara Levin, our multimedia specialist, felt it was vital to use multimedia that displays the hard work behind the films.

“Not many people know about the film aspect and the talented videographers that go to Cal Poly. This article was a great opportunity to inform Cal Poly students about the film program and show them what other students are putting together. I made a poster explaining the stages of production to give people a sense of what these students go through,” said Levin.

I accompanied Clara to her interviews. Professor Barros, who teaches ISLA 341, was extremely animated and excited to talk about the class. She sent me some great stills from the student films.

Still from student film, “Last Call”


Still from student films, "Thursday."
Still from student film, “Thursday.”

Barros explained to Clara and I how much time and effort goes into making the films.

“It’s something that they don’t think about, how much detail has to be applied to each element of the film and how much work it takes and how much time it takes to make a really good film,” said Barros.

Our broadcast specialist Allison Royal wanted to embody the passion students have in her video. Another major theme we found through the reporting process was the immense amount of pride these students anticipate to feel when they see the finished product of their film.

“When I was on the phone with one source, Georgie, before I had my KCPR interview, she said she was going to cry when she finally saw her film “Vixen” hit the big screen. I hope that sense of emotion hits our readers should this be published,” said Royal.

Movie poster for student film “Vixens”

However, this project was not all a walk in the park. Our group struggled through scheduling issues and communication barriers.

“In terms of challenges of reporting, scheduling was a challenge for me because the students once changed the time of their filming and it was also a little windy when I recorded an outdoor interview. All things considered, I was able to accommodate for the wind and the audio turned out nicely,” said Royal.

Behind the story: Exploring Witchcraft in San Luis Obispo

Welcome! My name is Savannah Sperry and I was part of a team of journalists who covered a story on the presence witchcraft in San Luis Obispo. I had the pleasure of doing some of the public relations work, creating a listicle on the topic and writing this very blog. I’m here to share a piece of our reporting experience, and maybe even some knowledge.

When we began covering this story, we didn’t know where it would take us. We worried it would be sensational, or we wouldn’t find any sources who wanted to speak with us. However, after our team member Dylan Ring posted on a Cal Poly Facebook page asking if anyone practiced witchcraft and would want to speak with us, the response was much greater than we could’ve hoped for. I wouldn’t call it an outpouring, but several self-identified witches reached out to us wanting to talk – we certainly didn’t have a source problem.

Print and public relations team member Monica Roos said, “When we first tossed around this idea, I honestly didn’t think it would get much traction. I was amazed we found a source and were able to talk to her right away. ”

Our first interview was with Eden Knapp, an anthropology and geography senior and a practicing witch. Immediately I was taken aback by the decor in Eden’s apartment. Halloween decorations littered the place and a sign by the door read “The Witch is In.”

“We’re very into Halloween,” Knapp said.

Knapp reads tarot cards for her roommate, anthropology and geology senior Audrey Cody - Photo by Dylan Ring
Knapp reads tarot cards for her roommate, anthropology and geology senior Audrey Cody – Photo by Dylan Ring

A book of palm reading sat on an end table next to a paper bag full of rosemary and a magic 8 ball. On the coffee table were an amethyst crystal, a small stone Knapp found on the beach and a thin wax candle. This was where she practiced her spells. Amethysts are popular crystals, according to Knapp. says amethyst is “healing on all levels –  body, mind, and spirit,” and also “raises vibrational frequency and protects against negative energies.”

One of the more interesting points for me was when Knapp discussed how some witches actually use wands.

“A lot of the time witches will have wands, I use a stick of selenite which is thought to help connect to a higher power,” Knapp said. 

Knapp's selenite crystal wand can be seen in the left hand corner of the table
Knapp’s selenite crystal wand can be seen in the left hand corner of the table photo by Dylan Ring

At the end of her interview, Eden predicted each of our futures by reading our tarot cards. Our time spent with Eden was very lighthearted and each of us had a very positive experience.

Photo by Dylan Ring
Photo by Dylan Ring

Multimedia man Dylan Ring said, “I thought it was really interesting hearing from Eden how connected to nature witchcraft is. I wasn’t familiar with how it worked and now it feels like I could connect with the practice.”

Broadcast team member Alison Stauf was excited to cover the story on her native platform.

“Broadcast is what I am most comfortable with, and I was excited with the potential of interviewing Eden and getting footage of her practicing her witchcraft on camera. It ended up being a little difficult for me to get B-roll for the creative interview, however needless to say, it was a pretty ‘enchanting’ experience,” Stauf said.

Our next interview was with Erica Hamilton, a practicing witch and co-owner of Blackwater, a clothing store in downtown SLO that sells crystals, tarot cards, candles and other witchy items. I couldn’t help myself from looking around at the store’s many cool knick knacks.

Hamilton expressed to us how common the practice of witchcraft truly is.

“Everyone on this Earth is a witch, they just don’t know it yet,” Hamilton said. 

She showed us around her store, gave us some background knowledge on crystals and shared her own experiences using the craft.

I loved sinking my teeth into witchcraft – knowledge I likely would have never stumbled upon on my own. It makes me remember the beauty in journalism, how it enables us to meet interesting people, hear their stories and tell them in creative ways.

Team member Monica Roos had a similar sentiment.

“This class, let alone this particular story, has opened my eyes up to journalism again. There’s always a story to be told, no matter how random, unrealistic or even mythical it seems – there’s something to be discovered, and something to be told,” Roos said.

Putting the Unity Back in Community with BSU

Saisa Willis, president of BSU, has been a member of the union since it was renewed. Photo by Chloe Carlson.

I was scoping out rival college news websites when I stumbled across a  video piece in the Daily Bruin. It was about a famous black alumnus, Jackie Robinson and his contributions. Ideas were bounced around and played with until our group decided to do a recap of the Black Student Union’s (BSU) last two years, since they’re still establishing themselves. My team members, Veronica Fregoso (Editorial), Chloe Carlson (Broadcast) and Julia Morris (Multimedia) all supported the project.

Turns out, this wasn’t the first senior project done about BSU. Carlson found a Mustang News article from two years ago about BSU when they first renewed their charter. Immediately we were challenged to find a different angle for this story.  And that was just the first obstacle.

I went around to people on campus and Facebook just to see where interest was before we delved into the story. Most subjects were open and friendly about the topic and shared what they’d like to find out.

I knew a story about BSU was important when Kiana Dyson, computer science sophomore who is african american, had no idea the group existed.

“It would be nice to know there’s resources and support out there for me to feel included,” Dyson said.

Yet one student was not as responsive with the engagement.

Screenshot from Olivia Doty of actual Facebook conversation with the reluctant source.
Screenshot of  actual Facebook conversation with the reluctant source. Courtesy of Olivia Doty


I messaged this student since someone on Facebook referred me to him. But he never responded.

Screenshot of read receipt
Screenshot of read receipt

I’m not bitter.

To have a source not trust you and talk to your superior was definitely a first and prepared us for future similar obstacles.

There was more of this unresponsiveness as the project when on, but there was still hope. After all, if Gay Talese could write a famous profile on Frank Sinatra without getting to interview him we could make this story happen right?

Carlson decided to take the story and put it into historical context. She dived into ASI data and old Mustang News archives to see how the club’s presence on campus changed throughout the years.

Through this she has decided to make a timeline for the piece using old photos from past stories.

Luckily we didn’t have to pull a Talese and ended up interviewing several people. Saisa Willis, our main source, is the president of the student union and has been involved since it started again two years ago.

“I spent a year and a half thinking I was the only black student on campus,” Willis said in an interview.

From Dyson’s prior comment and Willis’ interview, it became clear that Black Student Union is an important group on campus because people with different labels need to have a haven in a world so polarized by certain identities,

This story affected all of us differently. For Morris, it was admirable.

“From interviewing the BSU president Saisa, I found it really inspiring how much the BSU has grown in just the last two years. They started with only three or four students coming to their meetings to now having 60-70 people showing up. I think that shows that there really is a need for that community on our campus,” Morris said.

Carlson’s views were only further fortified as we did more research on BSU.

“I have attended the Black commencement since I was a freshman because I was invited by my close friends. It’s true that BSU has grown because I see how it has impacted my friends who used to feel like they were alone on campus. Neat experience to hear from the people behind it all.,” Carlson said.

For Veronica the story touched closer to home than anyone could have anticipated.


“I found that this whole experience to affected me personally. As someone of color, it upsets me that I don’t see more representation of minorities and the amazing things they achieve at Cal Poly. Traditionally, underrepresented students have a different background and so it’s amazing when we get accepted to universities. BSU has made so much progress on campus in only a few years and the majority of the campus should respect organizations on campus like BSU because these are the clubs that are really changing the campus climate and making everyone feel welcomed and valued,” Fregoso said.