You’ve heard part of this story before.
Three months ago–Tuesday, March 3, around 1pm in the afternoon–I checked my email and everything stopped for a moment.
At first, the news seemed too ridiculous to be true. Sweet Briar College was closing? Surely, there was some sort of mistake. Surely, the interim President meant to say Sweet Briar might have to close. Surely, something could be done.
Shellshocked. That was the word for how I felt. And then, as I reread the email, complete despair. I fired off a quick text to my older sister asking her to spread the word and make sure everyone knew and also to please not contact me. In the nine months since I embarked on my freelancing adventure, I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful to not have coworkers. Heartbroken, I cried on and on off all afternoon. There would be, I learned, a conference call for alumnae later that afternoon.
I listened in and livetweeted as much as I could. There was something in the voices of my fellow alumnae, something vaguely encouraging–fury. Determination. Give us numbers, they demanded. Give us answers. The interim President blustered. Repeated himself. Put his foot in his mouth. “It’s simple math,” he explained. “The college won’t survive another year.”
It feels like years since that afternoon–and also not nearly enough time. It’s June, the month when Sweet Briar means to shut its doors forever, and there are still so many unanswered questions, so many rumors. The Virginia Supreme Court is supposed to meet tomorrow and at least begin discussion of an extremely salient point in our initial court case: whether the will of the woman who founded our college is still in effect.
No cellphones in the courthouse, we’ve heard. We will have to wait for news. It will be a hard day.
But no day in any of this has seemed as impossible as that first. The day before we had hope. The day before we organized. Before we remembered–we’re Sweet Briar women and we have each other.
Reunion was this weekend and I was there for just 9 hours or so on Saturday. It didn’t feel like enough, but 48 or 72 hours wouldn’t have felt like enough either. “This place,” one of my classmates kept saying. The place–an incredibly beautiful, peaceful, healing place–is only part of it. The people in the place. What extraordinary power there is in that still.
I felt again like this couldn’t possibly be happening. But it wasn’t shellshock or really denial. The point is it’s not happening. Not yet. We have done so much and will do more until the last possible action is taken. That determination is there. It’s collective. And if we have our individual, private doubts or dark moments, that’s fine. There are other voices on the line to remind us. We can fight for each other.
There were many events in my decision to attend Sweet Briar and many more in my decision to stay there after freshman year. But I remember the moment when I knew somehow that I would be staying, even though I hadn’t made a conscious choice yet. It was simple–I was walking up the steps into the Quad on my way to class. The leaves had changed; it was almost winter. I looked around and I thought about not being at Sweet Briar, about leaving it behind. And I had a resurgence of that feeling that many students and alumnae recall from their first time on campus: this very intense connection to the place and the people and every woman who had been there before me. I realized, probably a little resentfully at the time, that Sweet Briar had already changed me. That, whatever I did, it would be a part of me for the rest of my life.
So much has happened since March. Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. is officially a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We have raised over $15million in pledges. The court has issued temporary injunctions. The school’s assets are protected–for the moment. Our story has been in every major newspaper. Elected officials have spoken out for our cause. We had the best commencement speech perhaps ever given on May 16.
We don’t know yet whether it will be enough to prevent the school from closing on June 30. We don’t know–still–what the real motivations behind the closure are. Many of our beloved faculty have (rightly) begun taking positions elsewhere, although it seems in several cases, they could return with minimal fuss. I worry daily for the staff. The people losing their homes on campus. What would happen in the fall semester.
The uncertainty of it is difficult. But I am certain we won’t give up. That we’ll keep fighting.
For Sweet Briar and each other.