After I posted about the topic on the Cal Poly SLO Class of 2017 Facebook page, I received a comment from Nicolas Pitchon, a Cal Poly student who runs his own marijuana delivery business.
“I plan on applying for one of the Grover licenses and am happy to talk about the current laws being drafted for Grover, SLO county, and some of the other cities/municipalities in our county for Recreational Cannabis,” Pitchon wrote.
So I scheduled a interview with Pitchon at his home in Avila Beach, where he also uses as his workplace for his marijuana delivery business, Slo Dro Co. Along with his delivery business, Pitchon also operates two farms and is the secretary for the SLO NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), which is a non-profit organization whose aim is to move public opinion sufficiently to achieve the legalization of non-medical marijuana so that the responsible use of cannabis by adults is no longer subject to penalty.
I am not very familiar with marijuana, but right when I stepped into his home, I was hit with a very strong smell of marijuana. There were also a ton of actual marijuana all over his home.
Pitchon told us how he is planning to apply to one of the two Grover Beach marijuana business license, and even let us film him smoking.
It was great that we got to see the behind the scenes on how he ran his delivery service and since his home is also the office for the business, there was so much material for us to film and take photos. That was when we decided to change our story to a feature story about Pitchon, and tying in the story of Grover Beach’s approval of marijuana businesses. I think I was really lucky to find Pitchon and interview him since it definitely made our story much more exciting than just talking about Grover Beach.
“It’s interesting to see how the community handles such a difference in their town compared to others in the area with regard to having marijuana businesses. The area seems a little bit older, more retirement age, and the acceptance of this by City Council and the Planning Commission as well as citizens of the city show that they are a progressive area open to change. It’ll be interesting to see in the coming months what happens when businesses can apply for permits to be one of the two stores selling marijuana in Grover.” -Ayrton Ostly, multimedia.
“The story was fun to write because we went into it knowing very little details about the subject, and after just one interview we had already learned so much! I think this was our best story of the quarter, so I had a great time writing it.” -Kameren Mikkelsen, Print.
I’ve never been more excited about a class than I was about my ethnic studies course, Beyonce: Feminism, Race and Politics.
The more and more I bragged about it to my friends I quickly realized that the majority of people either had no idea this class existed or, didn’t understand the relevance of the coursework. Being in senior project we’re supposed to pitch newsworthy topics and I thought how perfect this would be for a story.
Initially I pitched the idea of writing about “Bey Day”, this was my ethnic studies class final, which was a day dedicated to performances celebrating Beyonce and student/faculty panel discussions of black feminist authors. Brady was all for it, then quickly realized that Mustang News would be covering this event as it needed a more timely coverage.
As I continued to try to fight for covering this story, bragging about my professor, Dr. Navarro, listing off her accomplishments and trying to prove that she was unique enough for this story, Brady stopped me and said, “why don’t you do a feature on her instead?” I was surprised because I honestly assumed that Mustang News had written about her before, but after checking the archives I was delighted to move forward on shedding the spotlight on one of my favorite professors.
I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t her only number one fan, and asked former students about her and got nothing but positivity and even when I was checking out her Poly Ratings,
“Dr. Navarro was amazing!”
“Navarro is such a chill teacher.”
“Dr. Navarro is the BOMB. She is such a good lecturer and easily engages you in the topic that is covered that day.”
“Dr. Navarro is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Simply put, she is extremely kind hearted, understanding, patient and overall a brilliant woman. Her class was one of the most interesting ones I have ever had in my life and I loved every minute of it”
I wasn’t disappointed, so I wanted the readers to understand where this sentiment was coming from.
Nicole Peterson was writing the story, so I set up an appointment for her to meet Dr. Navarro; Dr. Isom, the head of the ethnic studies department; two of Dr. Navarro’s students; as well as her partner Dr. Navarro. I accompanied Nicole (and Annie and Lauren) to Dr. Navarro’s office where she had made the small space her home. She had 3 bookcases overflowing with texts of Chicano studies, the history of hip hop, and indigenous studies. Her glass award was tucked away in the corner of the desk, almost invisible to the eye. (She didn’t even mention the awards until I probed about it)
After Nicole finished her portion, I followed up with a few questions of my own: What kind of struggles did you face bringing the Beyonce course on campus? What is your favorite course to teach and why? What are some of your professional, academic and personal goals? What are some of your proudest moments as a professor? Tell me about the ‘colonial bros and navahoes’ incident Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What did you want to be when you were younger?
Annie Vainshtein, was handling multimedia this project. I suggested that her Thinglink hotspots should include interviews with: former students, her partner and fellow colleague Dr. Navarro, and her department chair Dr. Isom. That way readers could get a glimpse of Dr. Navarro through different perspectives.
For her second component, I suggested a Storify, so that we could compile all of her published works and publicized events so that the reader could learn more about her credibility and some background to her academic and professional carer.
“It was really wonderful to work on this piece about Professor Jenell Navarro,” Vainshtein said, ” I haven’t worked on a profile piece in a while, but they’re some of my favorite interviews to watched and pieces to read. I loved the way multimedia was incorporated into the project and I think it served well to illuminate just how significant Dr. Navarro is for many students on campus.”
Lauren Roberge’s portion was broadcast, so she joined, Annie and Nicole and I for Dr. Navarro’s interview to film her video, “I really enjoyed getting to know Dr. Navarro and what she stands for. It’s inspiring to see someone work as hard as she does to make a difference in the issues surrounding racial injustice on campus and at home” she said.
We wrapped up the interview with a few portrait shots and then Dr. Navarro finally went. Nicole and I stayed after chatting about the incredible quotes she gave us brainstorming what we should lead with when Peterson said, “just from meeting Dr. Navarro I can tell what a great person she is, I really wish I had met her sooner in my Cal Poly career”.
This project was so much fun to work on because the other stories we’ve done are little more reporting based and though this was still a feature, I still believe it will force the reader to think critically about ethnic studies courses and the struggles that marginalized individuals face. Dr. Navarro is more than qualified to be teaching a course on black feminism and it is clear that her success isn’t measured by the awards she has received but by the bond created by her and her students, “I asked the students around the table, ‘what is a relevant education to you?’. ‘What makes ethnic studies a relevant education,’ one of my Chicana students said, ‘is an education that makes me relevant’ and I’ve always remembered that she just stated it so poetically and beautifully that the demand for ethnic studies is a demand to make a way for us to be here and not lose our sense of self. So that was a very proud moment for me to hear her express herself in that way…..”
As previously mentioned in this blog post written by my fellow teammate Lexy Solomon, working on this story was a challenging for a few reasons— a lot of the conversations were sensitive and we had to be mindful in our approach, and organizing over 20 interviews with students and faculty is tedious work.
“It has been a challenge getting in contact with sources from all cultural commencements,” said Victoria Howland. “As journalists, my team and I are working very hard gather accurate information regarding each culture to avoid misrepresentation.”
However, this story allowed our team to take part in conversations about extremely important topics on this campus.
“This story holds so much value to me,” said Sophie Kelly. “I feel like we have a large duty as a group to respectfully and accurately cover each individual cultural commencement ceremony, attendees and the traditions involved within each.”
Representation of marginalized groups
Through our interviews and interactions with staff and faculty, we very quickly learned how important this story was for Cal Poly’s campus. Nearly every person we reached out to was grateful that we were covering their individual cultural ceremonies since that hasn’t been done before.
At the Chicano and Latino Commencement meeting, Lexy and I gathered stories from students about how their culture has impacted their Cal Poly experience, and the responses were heartwarming.
Psychology Senior Yvette Solano comes from a small, predominantly Hispanic town in San Diego, and coming to Cal Poly her Freshman year was a major shock.
“Coming to Cal Poly which is not too diverse is definitely shocking at the beginning,” said Solano. “But it only helped me embrace my culture even more.”
Many students including Solano told stories about how their families supported them through their time at Cal Poly, and how much the cultural ceremony means to them.
“I’m proud of where I’m from — not only where I was born, but where my parents are from,” said Solano. “I’m proud of the sacrifices they’ve made to allow me to be here, so it’s all for them.”
Financial support from the university
During my interview with Ethnic Studies Assistant Professor Jenell Navarro, the topic of funding came up. She said that although the university supplies a certain amount of money for the event, the budget isn’t big enough to include every aspect of the ceremony.
“There’s a portion of the budget that comes from the president’s office for each of the commencements, and that did increase this year,” said Navarro. “But it still didn’t pay for the whole ceremony.”
According to Navarro, the American Indian and Indigenous Commencement ceremony received additional funding from the American Indian Faculty Staff Association and Career Services. In addition, University Housing paid for the graduates’ blankets for the ceremony to represent the students and their families, as well as commemorate the Chumash naming of the new Student Housing South.
“It’s always kind of a hustle to come up with the funding for the event,” said Navarro. “I would be great if we could write out our budget and give it to the University Cultural Commencement committee.”
Hope for the future
This was the first year that Student Affairs sent an email about the Cultural Commencement ceremonies to every student. This makes us hopeful that the campus will continue to pursue equal representation for marginalized groups on campus.
After working on this project for weeks and getting to hear stories from students and commencement coordinators, we hope that this inspired student media to cover different cultural groups more often.
“I think this story has opened the door for a lot of discussion about the different cultural groups on campus,” said Lexy Solomon. “It has been a pleasure getting to speak to a wider variety of people and learn how their cultures have shaped their college experience.”
Before starting this story, I knew next to nothing about the ROTC program. Over the last four years, I’d seen some students in uniform walking around campus but was honestly too intimidated by the outfits to look for very long much less ask them any questions. I now realize how foolish I’ve been.
At the start of this quarter, one of my other group members pitched the idea of doing a story on Cal Poly’s ROTC program or maybe profiling a specific student. There hadn’t been any major stories on the program in the last few years. As our luck would have it, a Mustang News writer had been working on a profile piece around the same time we were looking to do our story. My group is short a member so we always have one element of the usual senior project missing. This time around, we were able to use Emma Kumagawa’s story and add in our multimedia elements. For me, having Emma was extremely because she had already made some contacts with members of ROTC. Her story was focused on ROTC Senior Cadet and biological sciences senior Katherine Holst, who’s headed to the 82nd Airborne to serve as a field artillery officer for at least the next five years.
When I first starting talking to Katherine, I was intimidated. I didn’t know much, but I could tell she was a person of great importance. When other students and even higher ups passed by us, their behavior suggested she was certainly a woman with authority. While she maintained this general vibe during our entire time together, I soon realized that she’s really no different than me. She’s just a student trying to make it through. I certainly don’t mean that as a negative, but I was under the impression that everyone is ROTC cadet was some gym rat with an aggression problem. Again, I quickly realized I was wrong. My group members agreed.
“I really liked working on this story because through all of the tough workouts and time commitments, these students are just like any other students but they happen to play a part in the bigger picture of life. It’s awesome to see they are not all that different,” said Jessi Armstrong.
Katherine understood that this was a common misconception for people who aren’t familiar with the program and that she gets more than her fair share of flack simply for being a woman within the unit.
“There is nothing magical about being an ROTC cadet. We aren’t a bunch of geniuses of fitness freaks or anything else out of the ordinary. We are simply a group of students who have decided to join something a little bigger. So don’t feel like ROTC is reserved for a select or tiny elite subset of the population. Feel free to come to Dexter and check us out, come chat with us or come do PT with us if you feel like it. I think you’ll find it’s not as different or as scary as it first seems,” said Holst.
My group and I actually ended up joining Katherine at 6:30 am one Wednesday morning as she headed out to Camp SLO, a local military base. There were some juniors taking their physical fitness test and we were able to see how the whole thing went down. And for a third time, I saw how my own preconceived notions had dictated my perception of these people. There were students of all shapes and sizes, each with their own unique story of why they joined ROTC. No two were alike other than that they were all extremely friendly and welcoming to us. They were focused when they needed to be but during breaks, they laughed and joked around like any other typical college student.
“I found that the people in ROTC are really motivated and dedicated. Waking up at 6 am to go workout three times a week is brutal and I admire them so much for putting so much time and effort into something they are passionate about,” said Marie Leleu.
In just one short week, soon-to-be Cal Poly graduates will be lined up along the edge of Spanos Stadium with their fellow peers, proudly sporting green caps and gowns, receiving diplomas, and officially becoming Cal Poly alumni. However, this won’t be the first celebratory ceremony some students will be participating in. Several students will have already participated in an intimate cultural commencement ceremony amongst their families, that aims to honor and recognize the accomplishments and hard work of each student.
Last month, Harvard’s first black commencement ceremony made headlines as students banded together to create their own ceremony to celebrate the achievements of black students and faculty, which they believe are overlooked. As this story began to spread across the nation, my group and I set out to learn more about the six different cultural commencement ceremonies Cal Poly offers.
A closer look at the set-up of the Middle Eastern student commencement ceremony. Photo courtesy of Raha Haghnia.
We set out to interview most of the coordinators of the cultural commencement ceremonies, as well as some of the students who will be participating in the ceremonies. Over the course of the past few weeks, my group members and I have had the opportunity to speak to first-generation college students, students who have overcome many obstacles at a predominantly white university, and faculty who are extremely passionate about acknowledging the dedication and hard work of underrepresented students on campus. Group member Sophie Kelley said, “It was so heartwarming to hear advisors share why these ceremonies mean so much to not only graduates, but their entire families as well. I think every school should work to include cultural commencement ceremonies.”
Middle Eastern Commencement Ceremony stoles for the class of 2016. Photo courtesy of Raha Haghnia.
Before beginning this story, we asked students, non-Cal Poly students, faculty, community and non-community members about their opinion on cultural commencement ceremonies. Since there’s been some controversy over this topic, we wanted to know if Cal Poly students thought that having additional culture-specific graduation ceremonies increased inclusivity on campus, or created more of a divide within the student body. Shelby Funk, junior business student said, “I think the fact that there are different ceremonies is very inclusive, but also the fact that I didn’t know they existed kind of makes it feel less beneficial towards an overall inclusive effort.”
My team and I definitely encountered some obstacles along the way. Reporting on this topic was not smooth sailing as we anticipated. While we went into this story with nothing but good intentions, one of the cultural groups did not appreciate us attempting to better understand their culture, but rather, they were highly offended and were not receptive to working with journalists or other students. Although we tried to make amends and continue the relationship, they were firm on their decision to not contribute to our story. It is unfortunate because we wanted to include them in our story and highlight the students’ accomplishments, but were unable to do so. “This has been a very challenging story to work on, but focusing on underrepresented groups on campus is extremely important. We had to organize so many interviews and meetings, and might have rubbed a certain group the wrong way, but this has been a learning experience and I have enjoyed hearing all the different stories and experiences” Cameron Bones said.
Group of students who are participating in the upcoming Chicano/Latino commencement ceremony gather to take a photo with advisors who helped plan the ceremony. Photo courtesy of Cameron Bones.
Although there were more bumps than anticipated with this story, it is the last story of our journalism career at Cal Poly, and despite the frustration, countless hours spent seeking out sources, and weeks of dedication poured into this story, I think we successfully captured what we aimed to do. “It was a pleasure to speak to the cultural commencement coordinators and students who are participating. Speaking for myself and my teammates, we appreciate each and every person who has shared their stories with us” Victoria Howland said.
Throughout the quarter, my group worked to find and report on stories that we felt would matter to the Cal Poly community. At the beginning of each two week cycle, we came ready with story ideas, pitched them, and talked them through before deciding on a direction to take. Our last story was a little different- instead of seeking it out, it sought us out. Having previously taken a VR class with Liberal Arts and Engineering (LAES) students and knowing how passionate they are about what they do, I was excited to have the chance to tell the story of their student-run escape room. My group members were not aware of escape rooms, but were intrigued by the concept and were eager to learn more. It immediately felt like the right fit.
We all agreed that the concept of an escape room was interesting, and wondered about the deeper implications of the project. We began by asking ourselves questions such as- why was this project important to the students behind it? How was this project related to the interdisciplinary LAES major? What is important to tell the Cal Poly community about LAES? Through my public relations outreach I gauged that most people did not know what an escape room was. It was clear we had a story to tell.
Compared to our previous projects, reporting on the escape room went smoothly. Laura and Amanda set out to interview LAES seniors Jack Goyette and Ciera Dixon, who were running the escape room. Jack and Ciera proved to be great sources- they were both very willing to be interviewed, and were quick to convey their passion for the project.
“The most rewarding part of engaging with LAES students was watching them talk about something they are so passionate about and seeing them light up when they got to answer questions about their accomplishments and this project,” print reporter Laura said. “Hearing Jack and Ciera explain the positive impacts this project had on their academic and professional lives was inspiring and is one of the reasons why I love journalism.”
Though the story proved straightforward overall, there were still some challenges, particularly in finding a diversity of sources for James’ multimedia components.
“For my multimedia portion, all my sources were students,” multimedia reporter James said. “I’m used to balancing sources and information, but this story didn’t really require that so I had to let that instinct go.”
All of us came away from the project feeling like we each had learned a lot. Through working on the story, we learned about the escape room and how important it is to the students running it. We also learned about the unique opportunity LAES provides for interdisciplinary learn by doing work. This especially shone through in our interview with Ciera.
“It uses so many different skills that you don’t usually get to utilize,” said Dixon. “I’ve done script writing, I’ve done video editing, I’ve sawed things, I actually broke my foot- I’ve done so many things for the escape room that I wouldn’t have gotten to do in any other environment.”
Individually, we each had the opportunity to add to our ever-expanding journalism toolboxes. James had the opportunity to learn how to use a Matterport camera to create a virtual tour of the room. Laura’s experience reaffirmed her love of journalism. Amanda had the chance to build on skills she had not previously felt strong in.
“I did not have a lot of experience with broadcast before this project,” broadcast reporter Amanda said. “I learned so much in just two weeks about broadcast, from learning how to mic a source to capturing the perfect b-roll.”
Getting to work on this story is an experience we will all cherish as our last journalism project at Cal Poly. It was the perfect ending to a quarter full of growth and positive group collaboration.
When our group first started out on our final story of the quarter, we thought we were going to be focusing on tarot cards. I began by emailing tarot card readers and astrologists in the San Luis Obispo community, looking to see if any were interested in being interviewed. Much to our amazement, we received many replies that agreed to be a part of our story.
Unfortunately, after our first interview, we realized that our topic was too broad, and that we needed to come up with another story idea. We were told by our professor of a new online form called the Individualized Change of Major Agreement (ICMA), which allows for Cal Poly students to begin the process of switching to a new major.
To learn more about this, we went to interview Dr. Debra Valencia-Laver, an Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Valencia-Laver gave us a lot of useful information on the ICMA and how the process works for students who want to switch their major. Luckily, she also talked about what students should do if they can’t get into the major of their choice. This comes in a little bit later.
After our group member on the editorial position, Audra Wright, met with our professor to go over her story outline, she had some more news for us. She confessed that a story purely about switching majors would be too difficult to cover in the short period of time we had left, and told us that our professor suggested to make the story more about alternatives for students that couldn’t switch into their desired major.
“Before this project I didn’t realize how many alternatives there are if a student is unable to switch his or her major. It was especially eye-opening to learn about the College of Liberal Art’s development of the interdisciplinary major and its ability to allow students with a low GPA to switch majors,” said Wright.
Even though our group wasn’t too thrilled to start over onto another story topic, we agreed that it would be the best decision to change the topic in order for a better story. Suddenly, our multimedia group member, Laura Daniele, knew exactly who we should interview next. She remembered a friend of hers that was unable to switch from crop science to biology, so later that day we talked to mechanical engineering senior Peter Pratt.
“Since I couldn’t switch my major at first, I decided that joining a club on campus that had some parts of the major in it was the next best thing. The PROVE Lab supplemented what I was missing in my current major, and allowed me to immerse myself in my interests,” said Pratt.
Since our broadcast group member, Josh Munk, had originally done his video interview with an astrologist, he was relieved we were able to find another person to do it on such short notice. Pratt was able to share how difficult it is for many students to get into the major they want, and that there are plenty of other options if the major is full or they can’t switch in, such as finding an internship in the desired field or joining a club with similar interests.
Being a group of seniors at Cal Poly, many of us didn’t know about all the different alternatives to changing a major. Munk had wanted to switch his major from journalism to communications a while ago, but was unable to get into the communications program.
“This topic was really interesting to me because I tried to transfer majors, but was never able to, and so learning about the process and how things have begun changing has been cool to see,” said Munk.
As we tried to make the most of our limited time, we discovered that this is a topic that not a lot of people know too much about. Daniele was especially excited about the opportunity to share alternatives with people who might be stuck in their major.
“Switching majors has a negative stigma at Cal Poly and everyone thinks it’s super hard, so they don’t attempt it. So, I think it’s good that we’re finding alternatives to changing majors and explaining the process better,” said Daniele.
Overall, we think this story turned out pretty well for us getting a late start. This project had our group learn some new information about alternatives to changing majors and we got to meet many people knowledgeable on the subject. As this is our last piece for our senior project, we really enjoyed the experience of working in these different roles and we gained a lot of insight on how to craft an accurate and newsworthy story.
At the beginning of the quarter, my group and I set out to write stories we felt would matter to San Luis Obispo residents and the larger community. We thought about the particularities of current San Luis Obispo that the community would care about and asked ourselves internal questions like: What are people’s concerns? What do they want more of? What are they frustrated by?
We answered these questions for ourselves, and each of us agreed that San Luis Obispo’s changing downtown — in terms of its rapid development and introduction of major chains like H&M and Williams & Sonoma — was a potential area in which some of these concerns populated. Monterey Street has been almost entirely transformed over the course of our college careers (the last four years). We also realized we bore witness to a substantial numbers of stores picking up and leaving town, but we didn’t exactly know why.
I wanted to see if this perception seemed universal, at least within San Luis Obispo. Each of us had at least several conversations about San Luis Obispo and it’s ‘changing downtown culture’ but I wanted to know what more students, community members, local business owners, and city officials thought. Are chain stores taking over? Is San Luis Obispo in its first stages of its eventual destruction from the one-of-a-kind, warm, Shangri-La many know it as? Or, was that an unfounded perception? We set out to find out.
Lauren interviewed more than 11 different people—passionate community members, local business owners (including the owner of Forden’s, a local home fireplace shop that decided to move out after 78 years of business in San Luis Obispo), the city’s economic development manager, and the mayor.
“I felt like I was really part of the community while interviewing some of my favorite shops,” broadcast reporter Mariam said. “It was comforting to hear their unique stories and experiences.”
Lauren, who attended a fair number of interviews as well for her multimedia portion said, “It was nice being able to hear from different people in the community that I may not have talked to before this project. Each one of them had something useful to say about their business.”
“I think the hardest part was the research,” Lauren said. ” I interviewed eleven sources and read reports, which was all very time consuming and grueling. But it was cool to get to know the community on a deeper level and hear the very different perspectives on the issue of SLO becoming corporate. Some opinions even surprised me.”
I attended a few of the interviews, and I too, was surprised by some of the stories I heard. After talking separately to Gold Concept co-owner Aaron Gomez and Mee Heng Low Noodle House owner Paul Kwong, it became alarmingly clear that in spite of the frustration many local businesses feel and their resistance to change, they also held a kind of humility and acceptance toward the fate of a city that is larger than themselves—or their businesses.
Kwong talked about the inevitability of so-called expiration dates for cities many hold dear. Originally from Santa Barbara, he moved to San Luis Obispo to get away from a city he felt was losing its character.
Kwong also noted the immense power and influence that Cal Poly has on the city’s decisions—and in this case, on what he calls “Corporation Row”— the stretch of Monterey St. that now contains Lululemon, Williams & Sonoma, Urban Outfitters, H&M, and Mint & Craft. Mayor Heidi Harmon explicitly pointed to this during an interview I had with her over the phone. Harmon said a lot of the chain stores exist because of students.
“I seriously doubt we would have an H&M at all, or certainly an H&M of that size if Cal poly and Cuesta students weren’t shopping there,” she said. “That’s a huge part of their market, I’m assuming, and that’s not to blame students for any part of this problem, but it’s just to remind students that they have a big role to play here, and i would encourage students, in particular, to think about that and know there are essentially voting with their dollars and voting for what city of San Luis is going to be like with their dollars.”
The Palm Theatre has been a part of the Downtown San Luis Obispo community for over 20 years. You’d think a business that has been there longer than most of the students at Cal Poly have been alive would be more of a household name, but most students don’t even know what the Palm is. No one in my group had ever been, so it was particularly important to find out why we should start going.
“The most interesting part about this experience is finding a hidden gem in SLO. I feel like I was investigating for not only the story but for myself as well.” – Group member Audra Wright
My roommate Leila is an avid Palm Theatre goer. She doesn’t miss the chance to rave about her experiences watching movies that she loved. So, I wanted to find out more about this not-so-hidden gem.
Opening the door to the Palm on the day of our interview with the owner, Jim Dee, led us into a new world of celebrity faces painted on the hall way wall, popcorn for a dollar and a cash only operation. It felt kind of like being transported back into the time of our grandparents. It is a breath of fresh air from the expensive and crowded cinemas that most cities have.
“It was really fun going to the Palm theatre to see how the experience there is different than the normal movie theater goer experience. It was interesting to learn about how cinema can shape a community,” said group member Sara Portnoy.
Turns out, Dee,has a huge passion for film starting back when he was still an undergrad at Cal Poly and part of “CinemaZoo“, a film showing club, consisting of him and his friend Paul Karlen.
“So we called it the San Luis Obispo Zoopraxographical Film Society or CinemaZoo. I want to say we did about 10 screenings.” – Jim Dee, Owner of the Palm Theatre
Charging about 75 cents a ticket, Dee and Karlen broke even or made enough to purchase the film for their next showing.
The process of “shining a light on a wall” as Dee calls it, has changed a lot since his college days. What was once a projection room full of equipment and film and requiring an attendant, is now replaced by a simple hard drive, electronic key and touch screen.
Even though he doesn’t handle film anymore, Dee is still the beating heart of the Palm Theatre. He picks each movie that gets shown. “Hopefully they’ll see something that’s either thought provoking or a film was able to get to you on a certain emotional level,” said Dee on what he wants the audience to get out of the films he selects.
Dee does not shy away from controversy. He has shown films such as Fahrenheit 9/11 that brought about some opposition. Most recently he participated in the showing of 1984 on April 4th in protest of the election of President Donald Trump.
So now the issue the Palm still faces, a decline in student patrons. Maybe it is because of the Netflix craze, HBO boom or Amazon Prime rush.“I want to say since about 2005, 2006 the younger audience is slowly disappearing, unfortunately. I would say 80-90% of our patrons are middle-age and above,” said Dee. I think anyone that goes to the Palm will fall in love with its originality and unique personality and shut their laptops, turn off their TVs and leave the movies to the big screen.
Getting to meet Jim Dee and learn about the processes behind the workings of the Palm Theatre was an amazing experience and definitely pushed us to become avid Palm Theatre goers like Leila. “I’m really glad that we got the chance to work on the Palm theatre because it is something I’ve always been curious about and now i have more incentive to go and see a movie,” said group member Josh Munk.
I think I can speak for my group when I say the Palm Theatre is an important piece to the Downtown SLO puzzle and one we can’t wait to frequent.
The story we decided on was not something sprung from clumsy, crude curiosity. My group had an intimate interest in this topic of international students at Cal Poly for an essential reason–we all studied abroad ourselves. From that experience, in each of us, we were able to know that a story did exist which was worth telling. We sought it out with personal passion, but our hunger wasn’t exactly met by a buffet or a polite “bon appetit.”
While we expected a wealth of sources to be ready and willing, we came to realize many of the international students studying abroad at Cal Poly this quarter were European. This homogeneity gave us some misgivings, however, we persisted–knowing that the stories was, nonetheless, there to be told. Official, administrative sources also presented potential setbacks. The international center has a very strict and busy schedule, and so the usual flag of “I’m a student journalist” didn’t receive the expected amount of attention we were hoping for. We hoped they would see the story too and welcome our notepads, but they were, understandably, busy helping make the story happen by orchestrating foreign exchange on campus. Some email exchanges did provide us some information we were hoping for though. Many international student sources also cancelled interviews. Although, we did know they would be at a weekly study abroad student session every Tuesday so that was an efficient contact resource.
An obvious theme in this story was the cultural differences noticed and felt by these international students living and studying in the US. We tried to section off areas for these differences, like socially, academically, politically, etc. Some of the students joked about President Donald Trump and how pathetic they think the US is for electing him, like so many Americans, themselves, do.
Urenna Evuleocha, a second year from Nigeria who came to Cal Poly for its architecture program, had a more personal experience to share.
“Before coming here, I didn’t really know anything about colonialism, slavery, and racism… they were just abstract terms in my mind,” Evuleocha said. “Now that I’ve come here, […] they are issues that I’m really passionate about.”
This personal anecdote gave us insight on where to take our story. The topic of politics was not exactly offering much newness or richness, so we dived into the rut of personal experiences with these international students. These were themes that we were easily able to generate from our own experiences abroad.
Group member Amanda Newell studied abroad in London last year. She shared how she grew from her time overseas.
“Studying abroad helped me learn to be comfortable with myself,” Newell said. “The sense of happiness I got from being independent and on my own is something I still carry with me today. Navigating a foreign city alone really forces you to grow and mature into a better version of yourself.”
I can relate with Newell’s experience and say it is very true. I studied abroad in Paris and started off not being able to walk 50 feet without pulling out my map. It was worrying at first, but I could have walked the streets with my eyes closed by the end. Adaptability is a skill worth millions in the modern, increasingly globalized world, and studying abroad is a masters course in it with a guaranteed degree. Such feelings were chronicled by fellow Mustang student journalist Kristine Xu in an article she wrote during her time abroad.
Group member Laura Hoover also continued on this theme from her own time in the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence, Italy. She also fostered a perspective of cultural appreciation along with an understanding of how cultures and their respective members overlap.
“This sounds counter intuitive, but I have never felt so perfectly comfortable being uncomfortable,” Hoover said. “Living in Italy forced me out of my comfort zone and into a completely different, yet vibrantly beautiful culture. The experience of studying abroad strengthened my independence and confidence but it also opened my eyes to the spectacular diversity that exists in this world. From Morocco to France, from Denmark to Spain, I encountered generosity, kindness, and genuine hospitality from a wide array of people. I learned that no matter how different a person and their culture may seem to you, that commonalities can always be drawn.”
It can be difficult to stomach some of the experiences one may feel while being abroad. There’s just too much to absorb at times. The world seems too big to be true, then suddenly morphs into a small sphere in the palm of your hands, all in an instant. This dramatic change directly parallels the tangible transitions students undergo during their travels. Many students keep blogs for this reason, as described in this article.
Group member Sophia Levin is one more who studied abroad in London. She commented on the cuisine between different countries and the small differences, the ones that leaving us unable to describe or recall. As Vincent says to Jules in Pulp Fiction about his time in Europe, “It’s the little differences…”
“It felt weird getting used to a different country’s customs and culture,” Levin said. “It took time to learn the idiosyncrasies of the way people in another country live their lives. I found it interesting how cultures around food and drinking vary so much from country to country.”
I can provide an example of Levin’s viewpoint: I would often go into a cafe to grab an espresso before early morning class in Paris, and as I zombie-stretched for my caffeine, I would see an elderly Frenchman sipping a glass of wine at 8 a.m. in the morning. Furthermore, in Serbia, my host would offer me a shot of liquor strong enough to sprain my neck muscles before lunchtime. Yes, I took it and said cheers with him. Hospitality needs to be reciprocated with heart, you know? On an entirely different plain, in Morocco, all the student travelers were frustrated at not being able to buy shot glasses as souvenirs because–they didn’t sell any! Morocco is a Muslim country, and most Muslims obey their doctrine by abstaining from alcohol.
The study abroad experience was something my group and I were really hoping to take to a new level for readers. Cal Poly students hear so much about going abroad from fellow students, and we wanted to provide perspective from the other side, from the inverse. We wanted to hear the voices of foreigners on campus and we felt like the right people to pursue this story.
Sources were a definite hurdle in this story. We did not let that dampen our reporting though, and my group members deserve a lot of credit for seeking out the foreigners they were able to find and speak with. The toughness and persistence they displayed was surely part of their study-abroad muscles. In nearly every unfortunate situation I’ve encountered since returning to the states, I am always able to say to myself in relief, “I’ve had worse,” as I laugh at myself and remember, and remember.