One of the hottest topics in the Lynchburg area right now is the closing of Sweet Briar College (SBC) after the Spring 2015 semester. SBC is a private, all-female, liberal arts college in Sweet Briar, Virginia. It is also one of the few remaining all-female colleges across the United States. There have been an increasing number of all-female schools either going coed, or closing down all together. Randolph College, formerly known as Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, is one of these schools that decided to go coed in order to keep their doors of education open to students. Good thing for me they decided to go coed, huh?
I have spoken with a graduating senior from Sweet Briar College, discussing the recent situation regarding the closure of her soon-to-be alma mater. The conversation sheds light on all the difficulties a women’s college would have to deal with in our time.
- Did it come as a surprise that Sweet Briar is closing?
Yeah, a huge surprise. No one really knew how bad the financial situation was. All the information we were privy to suggested that things were on the up swing. More girls were applying to Sweet Briar than in recent years and we just opened the new library. Everyone thought that the school was going to be around forever.
I don’t know too much about the specifics of it but from my understanding the school is about to default on a couple of bonds. And when the administration told us what was going on, they made it seem like despite the fact that we were bringing in more students, those students weren’t able to pay a significant enough portion of tuition to sustain the costs of running the school. The administration also told us that the school was drawing too much money out of our endowment and not putting enough money back in so we would end up running out of endowment money if we tried to stay open.
There’s a pretty wide spectrum of attitudes toward it. Some people are being very practical– one of my roommates started her transfer process the day of the announcement and went on college visits over spring break. Others are not ignoring applying to other schools but have become very invested in the #SaveSweetBriar movement and are heavily involved with alumnae. The faculty has given a vote of no confidence in the board and president. Some faculty members aren’t happy about it but want to stand by their colleagues who are. Mostly they are just as confused as we are and some have chosen to take to Facebook to voice their opinions and some are just trying to make the rest of the year go as smoothly as possible.
As much as I hate it, our President told us the day of the announcement that single-sex liberal arts schools, especially ones in rural areas like Sweet Briar, are just not as popular as they used to be and it makes sense. If you think about the kind of women that Sweet Briar attracted when it was thriving– wealthy, white, Southern women– and then think about who goes here now, it’s much more diverse, which is awesome, but it also means that students tend to rely more on scholarships and loans to pay for a Sweet Briar education. And more than that, Sweet Briar is really beautiful and has a lot to offer, but it is in the middle of the countryside, you need a car to get anywhere, even Amherst. That doesn’t exactly appeal to everyone. I think even a co-ed school could definitely end up closing if their financial situation is what ours is. Liberal arts schools aren’t as popular as they used to be– they’re expensive and a lot of kids come out of high school knowing what they want to study so a state school where you only study what you major in is understandably a much better option for most people.
I ultimately chose Sweet Briar because the minute I stepped on campus, I felt at home. I fell in love with the place and ended up falling in love with the people and the education. I came from a high school where classes were small and discussion-based and that is what Sweet Briar offered. I do think that an all-female education has value. My high school was co-ed so I was never afraid to talk in class but a lot of girls don’t feel confident voicing their opinions in class when there are boys, so eliminating them from the classroom allows them to feel more comfortable talking in class. Also, to be honest, no boys on campus means I don’t feel like I have to focus on what I look like going to class and that is something I definitely enjoy. If I could go back, I think I would definitely choose Sweet Briar. I only had that “ah-ha” at two of the schools I applied to but it was much stronger at Sweet Briar.
I feel like we shouldn’t let the school go down without a fight. I’m hopeful that the #SaveSweetBriar movement will be successful and a vast majority of students feel that way too. I would love for this school to still be around when I have children so my daughters could get the same great education I got.
I think that both kinds of educations are valuable for different reasons and how much you get out of it and which one you choose depends on the person. Personally, I know myself well enough to know that if there were boys in my classes, I would probably think I had to wear makeup every day and dress nice every day because that’s the way I was in high school. But a big part of it stems from having the confidence to engage in discussion in class. A lot of girls don’t want to say whats on their mind if boys are in their classes because they feel dumb or something. And boys a lot of times need a more structured class environment and if they have only boys in their class, their teacher can structure the lessons to better suit them and vice versa.
I would say I’m a feminist because I believe that women should be afforded the same rights as men. I think we should be paid the same salary for doing the same job, I think that we should be able to do what we want with our own bodies. I just think that feminism as a word has a bad connotation. Too many women associate it with man-hating and bra-burning and that’s not what feminism is about at all. All we want is to be equal.
Here is a current list of the remaining all-female college’s still in existence today: https://ink.niche.com/male-colleges-4-remain/
There has been a great uproar about the growing number of all-female college’s closing, however, I find it interesting that there are even fewer all-male college’s in the United States. It makes me wonder why there is not much interest in the other end of the spectrum when it comes to the declining number of same-sex college’s. Here is an article that discusses the topic in further detail: https://ink.niche.com/male-colleges-4-remain/
What are your thoughts on the closing of Sweet Briar College? How do you feel about the decreasing number of same-sex colleges? Do you believe that schools across the nation are doing the right thing by going coed? Please let me know how you feel on this topic in the comments.