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Photo Courtesy of Ash Shehzad

Farewell Column: Editor-in-Chief Isabel Taylor

When I started my career at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Fall 2020, the university was a dramatically different and unusual space. Earlier in the year, the global COVID-19 pandemic took people, and education, by surprise.

My senior year of high school was cut short; I graduated online. It was a moment for witness and for thought; and still, the summer I had was enjoyable. I’m grateful, reflecting on those times, for the privileges I had, the ways I was comforted, and for the health of my close communities. 

My first semester of freshman year, I moved onto the UMBC campus. Being able to start in-person as I had intended to is also something I’m grateful for. 

It can be awkward, or tiresome, to linger on the era of the pandemic; but I think lingering is important. 

I lived with a significantly diminished student population. Safety restrictions, routine pandemic updates, monitoring and testing, online classes and meals to-go. I lived in an LLC community of maybe 30 people, and traveling between buildings was not allowed. It was a quiet campus.

Not knowing anything else, I didn’t feel I was missing out. Actually, it was a peaceful time. 

With hours to spare in my days, I very naturally found my way to The Retriever.

Writing had always felt comfortable, and I found routine working from my room as a staff columnist for Opinions. Being involved with The Retriever became important; a way to feel part of the greater UMBC community that I could not see. 

I became Head Opinions Editor in Spring 2021. By the time Fall arrived again, the campus was opening up and I worked with the paper in-person for the first time. The transition took its time, but the pandemic began to feel increasingly distant and vague. 

Under the leadership of an amazing and sharp Editor-in-Chief, Morgan Casey, we covered a lot of stories that were important to the UMBC community. Every two weeks, we released a timely 8-page print issue. I loved the in-person experience; tracking events and spreading ourselves across campus to cover them or find new takes. I became acquainted with more students, and formed bridges with UMBC staff and faculty. 

But, early in that academic year, The Retriever lost access to its website. We’ve shared this story with UMBC before.

For more than a year, getting our website back up and running was out of our control. It was frustrating, to say the least, and even more so when the consequences became clear. 

The pandemic, then, came back into my view. 

When everything was online, readership of The Retriever grew to new heights. 

Although staff at the time had to adjust to the online landscape, they carried with them a history and knowledge of The Retriever from before COVID. This is something that I and the staff I eventually led were more and more disconnected from. The pandemic changed journalism, but it changed approaches to everything. New waves of staff brought new life and feeling to the paper.

Print issues, even consistent ones, were not enough to serve the UMBC community in that first in-person year. With every member of staff we lost during those times, it became harder to find students to fill their shoes. Everyone worked beyond the role they had been assigned to continue releasing content, and it was not sustainable. 

So you arrive at the start of my time as Editor-in-Chief. I’m taking my time to get here, I know. This story is a series of setbacks, but what it reveals about student journalism at UMBC is key. 

Even with amazing students and staff behind me when I began my role as EIC, the paper was vulnerable. 

The website was back up at the end of Spring 2022, but other challenges arrived. It was soon enough clear that this was a period of necessary reinvention. Recovering from COVID, I see now, will continue even once I am gone. 

With the website back up, key representatives of UMBC handled the paper as a risk that required management; possibly even suppression. Critiques of our more sensitive content emerged, even though we hold a unique position on campus to bring the most concerning issues to student attention. Regardless of any damage to the reputation of UMBC, it was our responsibility as student journalists to report stories with integrity and write truthfully. We cared, more than anything, about improving the experience of students.

Members of UMBC administration proposed a new position: a new media advisor for The Retriever

The Retriever was in need of an advisor, but our staff had justifiable concerns about the influence and control an advisor might exert.

We feared for our editorial freedom and that our very content was at stake; and that it would impact our ability to best serve campus. Without a strong center of journalism, we knew, a healthy campus could not be possible. 

Thus, the first stages of my leadership entailed ongoing conversations and efforts to ensure the advisor was suited to our needs. In the end, the paper was successful in this effort. Our new advisor, housed through the Center for Democracy and Civic Life, is dedicated to uplifting our content and the publication.

This is what I feel most proud of looking back on the past year, and I am overjoyed to leave The Retriever with an advisor who is dedicated to strengthening student journalism at UMBC.

There are some thanks I would like to extend. 

First, to the exceptional Content Managing Editor that I had at my side when I first began as Editor-in-Chief. Grace Reeb, now graduated and enrolled at Goucher College, is one of the smartest and most considerate people I have ever known. Without Grace, my transition into my role would’ve been impossible; and The Retriever may not have an advisor today. We worked excellently together, and outside of The Retriever, she is simply a great friend to have. 

Next, I would like to thank Ash Shehzad, who took up Grace’s role when she graduated. Although I wasn’t very close with Ash before her time as Content Managing Editor, I am so happy to say that I am now. A former Head Arts & Culture Editor, Ash is creative and has amazing taste. She has been dedicated to bringing this energy to the UMBC community, and I look forward to hearing about her time at the paper once I have graduated.  

Another person who made my position at The Retriever beyond rewarding is UMBC Professor Deborah Rudacille. Professor Rudacille, who served as a partial advisor for The Retriever when we had none, is the sole professor of journalism at UMBC. Although I am not as dedicated to the craft of journalism in my personal career path as other EIC’s at The Retriever have been, Professor Rudacille has been an invaluable teacher nonetheless. The lessons she has shared have changed me, and I hope to carry them with me forever. I am inspired by her career, and the way she is dedicated to journalism at UMBC. If you have the chance to enroll in one of her classes, I highly suggest you do so. Whether or not journalism is your calling, you will find a place in her classroom. 

I would like to thank the many members of staff that I have had the privilege of working with in my time as Editor-in-Chief. Alejandro Diaz Meinecke, Head of Business, Shomapti Hussain and Sara Bondroff, the production team, Arpa Shahnazarian, our Head Arts & Culture Editor, Torrence Barbour, Head of Technology, Lauren Moxley, Head of Social Media, Dan Derycke, Head Copy Editor; and Lydia Mayenge, Head of Advertisement. These individuals, and others, have remained passionate about The Retriever and have inspired me to continue striving for excellent journalism at UMBC.

To end my thanks, I would like to express my gratitude to the search committee to which I dedicated  many months in the effort to find and hire an official media advisor for The Retriever. Eleanor Lewis, Communications Manager for Student Affairs, Rickey Blissett, Associate Director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Life, Kait McCaffery, Assistant Director of Social Media and Brand Communications, and David Hoffman, Director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Life. This search committee was a learning experience, but it was great fun, and everyone was beyond dedicated to The Retriever. 

The result of this search committee was Ann Tropea, the new advisor to The Retriever, as of this Fall 2023 semester. 

In the limited time I’ve had to work with Ann, I can see that her experience in journalism will serve the paper and the UMBC community well. She is not only highly experienced, but she is a creative team-player who will bring an exciting energy to the paper in the Spring 2024 semester. Welcome her to this campus community, don’t hesitate to converse with her, and share with her your hopes for student journalism on campus.

As for me, I’ll be spending Spring 2024 in Lille, France as I embark on a study abroad experience. It’s long been my hope to learn French, and from there, to continue immersing myself in many different cultures and languages. 

While I’m abroad, I’ll certainly be reading the news and getting acquainted with the politics of my region. I’ll be continuing to study Literature, and creative writing, my passions. I look forward to tracking The Retriever once I’m gone, and know I’ll always hold this special, albeit challenging, time in my heart. 

The pandemic has brought many reflections, and these reflections are worth sitting with, even today. Even despite changing landscapes in journalism, the fact remains: journalism is essential to a healthy democracy. 

Even if you’ve never considered yourself a writer in any form, the paper has a place for you. If you care about UMBC, and about building it to best serve students, get involved. Bring your special story to The Retriever.

Thank you for you engagement,