Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Closing of Sweet Briar

I was dismayed yesterday to learn that Sweet Briar College, which is located north of us up the Shenandoah Valley, is closing. The graduating class of 2015 will be its last.

The women's college was established in 1901.

I attended Hollins College, now Hollins University, which is also a women's college. So this announcement shook the sisterhood, as it were, of women's colleges. They are becoming fewer. Young women do not want to attend all-female schools, particularly ones set in rural areas.

Hollins remains all-female in its undergrad courses, but its masters levels classes are co-ed. According to Hollins president, Nancy Gray, the Hollins community remains on sound financial footing. Here is part of her letter to students and faculty that went out yesterday after Sweet Briar's announcement:

I want to assure you that Hollins is strong and growing stronger as we approach our 175th anniversary in 2017. For example:
  • We are on solid financial footing, operating with no debt.
  • Thanks in large part to the generosity of our alumnae, our endowment has reached a record $180 million, making it the fifth largest among all independent colleges in Virginia. 
  • Our most recent fundraising campaign, completed in 2010, raised $162 million, and remains the largest of any southern women's college.
  • Our Board of Trustees demonstrated its commitment to faculty and staff with a five-year compensation plan.
We see evidence of the value of the educational experience at Hollins every day: 
  • Students from 44 states and 17 countries are enrolled here.
  • Applications for undergraduate admission are at the highest level in 12 years.
  • The quality and diversity of applicants to our undergraduate and eight coed graduate programs are outstanding. 
  • We are growing our academic programs. Last year, we added a new honors program, a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental sciences, new graduate certificates in playwriting, and a graduate program in children's book writing and illustration. 

At Hollins, learning has never been confined to the classroom. But in the last few years we have re-doubled our efforts to link living and learning by expanding our internship and experiential learning programs - thanks in large part to the partnerships with so many Hollins alumnae.

Young women come to Hollins eager to learn, ready to take chances, and poised to begin the next chapter of life. But when they emerge, they aren't just graduates in liberal arts, math or science. Like their predecessors, they become leaders, decision makers, and cultural shapers. That's because Hollins ignites in our students a passion to learn, explore, create, and contribute. Our mission remains compelling.

I know many people believe the time for separate education facilities for women has past, and perhaps that is so. In the past, there were lawsuits to admit women to higher institutes of learning that were state schools; UVA did not admit women until 1970. So the gains have come in my lifetime. Watching the current political landscape, it is easy for me to fear that such gains might also be quickly lost.

My experience at Hollins helped me tremendously, and I valued the same-sex education environment. When I returned for my masters, I could tell a difference in the student learning experience. Men almost always dominated the classroom, even if he was the solitary male figure (or maybe especially if he was the solitary male). We have been conditioned from birth to defer to the penis, and so that is what we do. I always preferred female teachers to male and the hours spent with the estrogen-dominated classes rooms remain some of my happier memories. I was freer there than in "the real world," where men rule, but it also prepared me to meet that world by making a stronger, more sure woman.

So I am sad for the Sweet Briar students who are suddenly homeless. Some of these young women will transfer to Hollins, and I welcome them into the sisterhood. I hope they find that Hollins meets their needs as well as the old college.

1 comment:

  1. Sad to hear that this college is closing. I think we need more schools like it.


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