By SARAH GRAMMER
Sweet Briar College made the unexpected announcement on Feb. 28 that the board of directors had voted to close the school at the end of the upcoming summer semester. The all female college’s Board of Directors cited insurmountable financial losses, as well as lack of interest in rural, private female colleges as the rationale behind the decision.
Current Sweet Briar students are being forced to transfer to different schools via a teach-out method. Schools including Mary Baldwin College, Lynchburg College, Randolph College and Hollins University have collaborated with Sweet Briar to offer expedited transfer applications. To make the transition easier on SBC students, the University of Mary Washington extended its transfer and admission dates until further notice.
A number of students, alumni and faculty responded to the news of the closure with outrage. SBC alumna Dani Humphrey graduated in 2013 with a B.A. in English and creative writing and said she was in shock upon hearing of SBC’s closing.
“No one had seen this coming. No one was informed on this decision; we had no red flags, nothing. The alumnae, students and faculty were all kept in the dark,” said Humphrey. “I tried so hard to keep myself together when I found out that it wasn’t a rumor, but that didn’t last long. I cried. A lot.”
According to Humphrey, part of her concern was not only for the loss of her alma mater but for the current students.
“Those girls were just slapped in the face with a big, ‘you don’t matter.’ My heart broke,” said Humphrey.
Since the decision was announced, supporters all around the country have united under the movement #savesweetbriar.
“Over 20,000 SBC alumni around the country have joined the movement and the group has hired a Richmond based law firm, Troutman Saunders, to take on our legal case,” said Humphrey. “Chap Peterson has personally addressed the Board of Directors and President [James] Jones with questions of concern.”
Within the first 48 hours, the group was able to raise $2 million in pledges toward their $20 million goal.
“The Board of Directors should have come to us for help. It’s our job to be there for our school and our fellow Vixen sisters,” said Humphrey. “We will not stand down anytime soon.”
Sweet Briar College is not the only small Virginia college that has been facing financial problems. Several colleges, such as Averrett University in Danville, Ferrum College in Ferrum and Shenandoah University in Winchester, have decreased headcounts as the years go by. UMW’s enrollment rate is down by six percent, and it has fallen every year since 2010. In addition, the school is facing under-enrollment for the class of 2019.
Junior German major Emily Gage said she does not believe UMW students should be worried.
“We keep expanding on buildings and courses each year. Eventually UMW will no longer be considered a small school,” said Gage.
However, Gage had a different opinion on the fate of the small private colleges.
“They probably will close because of the new expectations American society has for schools. They must be more expensive, they must offer certain courses and such,” said Gage. “Some small schools that are not well known cannot survive this type of inflation, and so probably a lot of schools like Sweet Briar will eventually close in the future just as schools have before in the past.”
Humphrey echoed Gage’s concern with the fate of smaller, liberal arts colleges. However, Humphrey believes that these colleges can be protected through hard work.
“I think this is a wake-up call for all alums that have attended small colleges around the country. If the school falls into the wrong hands, anyone could be next,” said Humphrey. “This isn’t just a fight to save an all-women’s college; this is a fight for liberal arts education. Choices matter. Not everyone wants to attend schools like UVA or [Virginia] Tech. Bigger does not always mean better.”