$100 Million Anonymous Donation to "Save Sweet Briar" with an Unexpected Condition

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Andrea Schmid '17

Assistant News Editor

“Save Sweet Briar,” the fund created to push back against the Board of Trustees’ unilateral decision to close down the southern women’s college, recently received an anonymous $100 million donation. While the college’s president, James F. Jones, stated the decision to close the school was not due to lack of funds but rather “as a result of decreasing application rates and thus enrollment,” this endowment is likely to keep Sweet Briar’s doors open in the fall. News of this massive donation initially led to celebration among the community of students and faculty of women’s colleges across the country, from the Seven Sisters on the East Coast to Mills College and Scripps College on the West Coast.

This, however, proved to be the calm before the storm when the anonymous donor publicly released a condition to their donation: if restored, Sweet Briar must be a women’s college that will support and cultivate young women to thrive in domestic spheres, also known as the ‘home.’

“Today, women’s colleges are taking a catastrophically negative turn away from the kind of women’s institutions that they used to be,” said the donor in a public statement. The statement continues to assert that, while the First and Second Wave Feminist movements were important movements because “it was right that women fought for their basic rights, like everyone else has had to,” the Third Wave feminist movement has lead to an “unreasonably hyper-liberal culture that is causing women to lose their connection and understanding of the true meaning of femininity.” As this kind of culture becomes instilled in women’s colleges, the donor stated, more and more women are at risk of being corrupted by such ideologies.

“If this donation is to remain in effect, Sweet Briar’s mission statement as a women’s institution must be to restore the traditional ideals and integrity that once defined women’s colleges: femininity, home economics and an extensive knowledge of the arts and language – not engineering and the sciences, as colleges like Smith seem to champion,” the donor said.

It is not entirely certain that such a condition will be ruled out. As a Sweet Briar faculty member said, “It is $100 million, after all. On top of the students, there are jobs and communities founded on Sweet Briar that will be dismantled if the conditions of the donors are not met.”

In a time when our political atmosphere seems to be dominated by two intensely polarized parties, it seems that the same atmosphere is working its way into the politics and dialogue of women’s institutions. As women’s colleges in the Northeast begin to adjust their admissions policies and accept transgender women and students of an array of sexual and gender minorities, it seems more likely than ever that Sweet Briar will exist as the opposing model for women’s education: to reestablish the traditional understanding of womanhood and femininity.   

“After being at Smith for a year, I have grown tired of the incredibly liberal and revolutionary culture that the student body seems to impose on everyone,” stated a Smith student who wished to remain anonymous. “Frankly, I am glad that these anonymous donors have set such a condition. I would encourage students and Sweet Briar’s Board of Trustees to consider this proposal. I can tell you for certain that I, along with several other students from the Seven Sisters will apply to transfer to Sweet Briar if it adjusts its mission statement to a more traditional model and set of ideals for women’s education. I want to learn how to sew. I want to learn table and conversational etiquette and I want my language degree to be applauded as a status symbol of culture and refinement. I am sick of being surrounded by self-righteous women with so-called ‘Smith chops’.”

As the public eagerly anticipates a response from Sweet Briar College’s Board of Trustees and President, it is certain that more dialogue and debate will continue about this conditionality and its implications on the future identity of Sweet Briar and, to an extent, other women’s colleges.