Sweet Briar College announced on Tuesday that, after 114 years, the all-women’s Virginia college would be closing for good following the spring 2015 semester.
The unexpected closure stunned people active in higher education, but none felt the news as strongly as current students and alumnae of Sweet Briar College.
Julia Patt, Sweet Briar class of 2009, told Business Insider about the moment she learned the news about the closing. “We all got an email. I was horrified,” Patt said.
On and around the campus, students reacted to the new that the Board of Directors had voted to close the school. Speaking to the tone on campus, Patt said, “I know the students on campus are devastated … Particularly if it’s your junior year then you’re losing your community probably right when you feel like you really had it.”
Lea Harvey, Sweet Briar class of 1990, was in shock upon hearing the news.”My first reaction — I started shaking. It was not something I ever believed, or any of us ever believed, in our wildest imaginations would be a possibility,” Harvey said.
The emotional reaction of students and alumnae is in part a function of the intimate setting at Sweet Briar College. With current a enrollment size of under 800 students, classes are small and the community is tight-knit. When looking to alumnae figures, there are over 20,000 graduates of Sweet Briar College around the globe. For perspective, that’s less than the current enrollment size of Arizona State University.
The shock quickly turned to anger and disappointment that the college didn’t do more to engage an alumnae population deeply committed to keeping it alive. “I think we were disappointed that we were not put on notice that the college was at risk to the degree that it is,” Harvey explained.
She added that, as the reunion giving chair for the class of 1990, she wasn’t informed that there was the remote possibility the school wouldn’t be in existence by the end of 2015. Harvey has been working with the school for the past year to fundraise for the class of 1990’s 25-year reunion.
“I’ve been working with the college for about a year toward that and I was never told that there was any type of impending crisis,” Harvey told Business Insider.
She added, “I was very disappointed and hurt more than anything that the college didn’t trust us as alumnae with this information, and didn’t trust as partners in finding a solution.”
Harvey and other alumnae say that they are now turning their sadness and disappointment toward action, hoping to mobilize to form an alternate solution for the financial troubles of the school.
There are currently alumnae-led public relations and fundraising strategies underway, and graduates who are attorneys are looking into the legality of the board’s decision to close the school.
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