Brianne Hofmann parks her car in the parking lot, letting it idle for a moment. She’s dreading the conversation that she knows she’s going to be forced to have. The fear of homelessness — already she’s had to bounce from couch to couch — and being kicked out of school has left her embarrassed and numb.
Now she must talk to her professor and boss about her future. As the two sit together on the patio of the Grand Traverse Pie Company, it is the kind of day that movies try to recreate, complete with sunshine, gentle breeze smelling of flowers and grass and even a bird or two. But Hofmann doesn’t take any of the scenery in. She sits aimlessly stabbing at the chicken caesar salad her boss bought for her awaiting the berating she believes is coming. Instead, the older woman looks to her through sunglasses and says in a calm, dignified manner, “‘Bout this you not coming back in the Fall.”
Hofmann sips at the sweet tea that now seems too sweet.
“I don’t know. I’ve got all these variables in the mix and I just don’t know what to do,” she says.
“But you’re a fighter,” her boss tells her.
And that’s all it took.
After nearly a full decade in service to her Alma Mater, Rachel Wedding McClelland will say goodbye to Indiana State University and the Indiana Statesman.
The scene above is but one of the many such interactions McClelland has had with her students.
“I’ve never had anyone, not friends or even family pick me up the way she has,” said Hofmann, the previous Statesman editor-in-chief.
Hofmann spent several years in McClelland’s company and feels that her relationship with her professor and director has truly changed her for the better.
“Rachel’s guidance is what pushed me away from the edge. And I’m not alone. How many hundreds of other students has she done the same thing for?” said Hofmann.
McClelland originally began her service to ISU in 1989 as an undergraduate transfer student studying journalism.
McClelland graduated two years later in 1991 and spent several years working in journalism careers including “several dailies,” as McClelland put it. Some of these smaller publications included Sullivan County, Greencastle and Terre Haute’s own Tribune Star. She later returned to her home-base in 2004 where she became an adjunct professor in communication, and shortly following began work on her master’s degree. After finishing graduate school, McClelland began work in ISU Communications and Marketing reporting and quickly gained notice.
Four years ago, McClelland was asked to assume the position of Director of Student Publications.
“The former Director [Merv Hendricks] left unexpectedly and I was asked to fill in on a temporary basis. After one year, I was asked if I wanted to be full director,” McClelland said.
Prior to McClelland’s entrance, the Statesman itself was said to be in poor shape.
“The Statesman was going downhill. It had hit status quo,” said ISU alumna and previous Statesman Editor-in-Chief Jessica Squires. “Like almost everyone, I was at first intimidated by her [McClelland]. I was passing by her at the fountain one day and she tells me that I’m now working at the Statesman.”
That day though, Squires was unsure of herself and intimidated by the prospect, but McClelland assured her that all would be well and that Squires would be fine.
“I had worked there for a month and a half prior to Rachel and decided not to. Lots of what they did, from interviews to set-up to production, was against what we were being taught in the classroom. There were a lot of cliques,” said Squires.
Some of the changes that McClelland implemented included encouraging student editors to create deadlines as well as scheduling the paper’s production well ahead of the printing date and opting for a tabloid format instead of the standard broad sheet.
McClelland also brought with her a “presence,” as Hofmann put it.
“It’s supposed to be a student-run newspaper, so we’re given lots of freedom to work with. But whether it’s a section or an entire staff, that’s pretty scary. I know for a fact that I would have never become [Editor-in-Chief] were it not for Rachel. I would have stayed content right where I was at,” said Hofmann. “What makes Rachel so great is that she’s this balance of presence. Some semesters I needed her to hold my hand, but sometimes I was more, ‘Let me do my own thing.’ And she sensed that.”
McClelland herself expressed that leading the students at the Statesman was her dream job. McClelland had several mentors herself during her time working at the Statesman as an undergrad. These mentors had a lot to do with her return to academia and teaching, eventually leading her back to her roots.
“ISU helped me develop as a mentor of students and as a publisher. This school has been teaching me things for a lot longer than I would have anticipated,” said McClelland, pausing briefly to dab her eyes, “I’ve been surprised, since announcing that I’m leaving the University, the number of students who said, ‘You’ve changed my life.’”
“That’s why we’re on the planet,” she said.
Students are not the only ones to outwardly express their loss.
Statesman Business Manager Stacey McCallister said, “Well, she’s more than just my coworker, she’s become my friend. And I’m going to miss her.”
“She’s somebody who puts their heart and soul into this place. She’s got a very positive attitude day in and day out and really helps out any way she can,” said Brian Fitz, the advertising manager for the Statesman. “You see a lot of ISU alumni who leave as Statesman editors and go on to become professionals and I think she has a direct contribution to that.”
Some of the Statesman alumni whom Fitz spoke of include Squires, who has become an editor for the Greene County Daily World; Hofmann, who is currently a copy editor for Police Technical and Ernest Rollins, who reports for the Brazil Times.
“I always saw her as ‘Mom.’ And I think that’s how most of us are. It seems like most [editors] were missing something, usually a support system . . . and Rachel became the professor, but she was more a shoulder to cry on and a support system and I still see her that way,” Hofmann said.
Hofmann suffers to this day from crippling self-doubt, but McClelland is a steady encourager.
“Rachel is the only person to pull me aside and say ‘You have the strengths, but no one’s going to know that if you don’t put your first foot forward.’”
Though McClelland’s decision to leave Indiana State University was her own, it is not without difficulty.
“Goodbyes are just terrible,” McClelland said. “I’ve had 20 plus years with some of these people. Joe Newport was the Chief of Police when I was at the Trib Star. Jim Jenson was the director of Parks and Rec. I’m not going to go to Tennessee and just pick up those kinds of relationships.”
Hofmann expressed concern that McClelland’s departure was the result of disagreement with upper management over the students and their involvement in the paper, but also believes that the constantly fluid nature of journalism had much to do with it.
“It’s time. You take a job and it runs its course. That being said, I don’t think it was an easy decision. Anyone can see that. I think Knoxville will be good for her. And as cliche as it may be, she needs to spread her wings,” said Hofmann. “This was in the works for a while. It’s just the nature of the beast.”
McClelland is excited to be setting forth on this new adventure. Spending her entire childhood bouncing from place to place, she feels it is time for a change of scenery. McClelland will be taking over as director of student media at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., a school of nearly 28,000 students with its own college of journalism.
“They have a lot of resources that ISU lacks. It’ll be great to see what I can do there,” said McClelland.
Upon leaving, McClelland said she hopes her students continue to take the paper farther, even though this year alone the newspaper staff won 12 major awards from the Indiana Collegiate Press Association.
Squires, however, is certain that all will be well.
“She’s a strong person who makes students stronger. She pushes people to where they need to be. She is a beacon, she’ll show you the path you need to go,” Squires said.
Reflecting on her time with ISU students, McClelland confessed to something her students might be surprised to hear.
“I think sometimes I needed them more than they needed me,” she said.