On Tuesday March 3, 2015, I gave an invited talk to Sweet Briar College’s Engineering Club. The presentation I chose from my library as being the most appropriate for what I hope will be the introduction to a continuing series of talks for a growing audience at that school was Nuclear Energy: Important tool for energy abundance & limiting atmospheric chemistry changes.
Here is the video that goes along with the slide show linked above.
The video does not show the shocked look on the faces of a few of the audience members near the end of my talk as they discovered that the school’s interim president had just announced that their beloved, 114 year-old school would be closing in August. On March 4, I posted a blog about the surreal experience of being on Sweet Briar’s lovely campus when that announcement was made.
It’s time for an update on what the students and alumnae have done since they were blindsided by the news. I’m pretty sure that the president and the school’s Board of Directors underestimated the power that they were unleashing.
By Wednesday afternoon, people who wanted to do something to reverse the decision could visit saving sweetbriar.com to make a pledge of support, to find stories about the importance of the school, to track legal developments and to volunteer in other ways. As of Saturday, March 7 at 0500, donors had pledged $1.7 million, an impressive amount for a three-day old campaign.
The fired up Vixens from Sweet Briar have also established several active Twitter hashtags including #SaveSweetBriar and #thinkisforgirls. They are also rallying on buzzfeed and probably dozens to hundreds of other sites.
The action isn’t just happening online. Sources tell me that the campus is humming with meetings with students, alumnae and faculty busily brainstorming to produce concrete plans that will effectively protect their school and their heritage. They are joining forces with other supporters that believe there should be a wide variety of educational opportunities that fit different learning styles and interests.
Especially in an era where many campuses are distracting or even dangerous places to live and study, there is a need for schools that have proven that they are nurturing, enabling places to learn, lead, develop and grow. It is frivolous and insulting to dismiss the value of rural women’s colleges by talking about the distance to the nearest Starbucks.
The piece of this story that confuses me is the part where the school’s leadership neglected to turn to its greatest potential source of financial strength and improved recruiting results – its strong base of accomplished and caring alumnae. That fact alone says that the people who made the decision did not do everything they could to keep Sweet Briar operating as a special place of higher learning.
It also stimulated intense curiosity about the underlying stories covered by the tale of “financial challenges.”
Despite what the interim president — who has only been on the job for 8 months — says, this is not a fait accompli. Bad decisions can be — and should be — questioned and reversed.