Sweet Briar College is Smith’s Sister, Too

Jamie Williams '15

Contributing Writer

On Wednesday, March 4, I sat in front of my computer screen; I was overwhelmed by my midterm workload but numb from the senioritis. I heard a murmur from my nightstand. My sister was calling me.

“So I guess you’ve heard the news.”

I was confused. She continued, “Sweet Briar is closing. They announced it to us in a meeting yesterday, saying that we are 250 million dollars in debt. The board already voted in Washington. No one knew we were in trouble.”

I was stunned; institutions do not just close overnight. My whole body flushed with empathy at the upheaval my sister would now have to face. She received a scholarship to attend Sweet Briar College – the only other women’s college in the country to offer its own engineering degree – and joined the lacrosse team there. She is now a sophomore, studying biology and environmental science.

“Smith says they will extend the deadline for transfer applicants, but many schools have already passed their deadlines,” my sister explained. She felt betrayed. The administration had let her down. Did this diminish her experiences there? How was she going to be able to recover?

Smith’s offer to extend its deadline for transfer applications from Sweet Briar students is just one example of other institutions taking advantage of the college’s impending closure. There has been a significant amount of “athlete poaching.” Other schools have flooded Sweet Briar’s athletic coaches with insincere regrets about the loss of their teams to entice the coaches to send Sweet Briar athletes their way. Sweet Briar is an NCAA Division III school, meaning that coaches can’t approach Sweet Briar athletes until the institution has released them. My sister explained that the coaches at Sweet Briar had desperately appealed to the dean, who failed to respond to their requests, swamped with emails and meetings. Fortunately, the athletes were released by the end of the week.

Still, my sister is dismayed that she may not be able to play lacrosse next year.

“How can I walk onto a team as a junior?” she asked me. Being a part of a team has impacted my sister’s psychosocial development. Supporting her teammates and her relationship with her coach have been just as important to her as being a goalie on the team. The belonging and pride she feels with her team have helped her to establish her sense of self. In addition, the many clubs she has been a part of, attending alumnae functions, and spending time with her roommates have  filled her life with joy.

Another significant relationship that my sister has at Sweet Briar is with her Professor, Dr. Linda Fink, a member of the biology department for the past 24 years. Fink has been a source of inspiration and encouragement for my sister, as an assertive woman in a STEM field. Many professors, like Fink, on the verge of retirement, are suffering greatly from the closure. Not only are they losing their jobs and titles, but many will be displaced from their homes. Sweet Briar College is the crux of the town of Sweet Briar, Virginia. Nineteen of the professor’s homes have been built on land owned by the college and will now be sold.

My sister is in mourning. She will lose many of the connections she has to Sweet Briar alumnae, her friends, her team and her mentors. She will lose the scholarship she worked hard for. While I fully believe in my sister and her ability to be resilient to life’s major challenges, I recognize that she and others in Sweet Briar’s community are in pain. Even as our collective understanding of gender is changing, I am grateful for being surrounded by the support of other female bodied and women-identified students. If the Smith College administration were to forsake me, would I fight for this community and what a women’s college education represents?

I am a Smithie and a proud sister of a Sweet Briar College student and athlete. Sweet Briar may not be a member of the Seven Sisters, but it is Smith’s sister, too. An investment in Sweet Briar College is an investment in women’s education.