As students returned to Sweet Briar College from spring break, they were greeted by more than 700 alumnae who poured onto campus to say, in effect: Don’t go!
Soon after the interim president shocked the campus by announcing the school would shut down forever this summer because of financial challenges he called insurmountable, alumnae mobilized to stop the closure. In a couple of weeks, an alliance of alumnae and faculty have pledged more than $3 million and hired a law firm.
But as they explore their options for the unexpected fight, alumnae leaders worry that current and prospective students will commit to other schools before they have a chance to try to stop the closure – which could crush the effort.
“Give us time,” said Stacy Lukanuski, who graduated in 1985 and has a daughter who is a freshman at Sweet Briar.
They also asked for support from their “sister colleges” that are recruiting students and waiving application deadlines for those affected by Sweet Briar’s planned closure.
Several colleges have representatives on campus this week to help students who wish to transfer.
So alums baked cookies, made pink and green posters, painted slogans on their cars, gathered bouquets of daisies and headed to Sweet Briar.
“The students were so shell shocked, of course, when they found out about the closure,” said Lukanuski, who was as blindsided as her daughter had been when she called after the announcement in tears. “When they saw all the alumnae that showed up, they had some hope.”
Alumnae led a hike up Monument Hill, part of the more-than-3,000-acre campus, and talked strategy.
Meanwhile, an alumnus of the all-male Hampden-Sydney College, which has long had close ties with Sweet Briar, launched an online campaign to help.
“It’s so important to the Hampden-Sydney students,” said William Ballance, who graduated in 2011. “As you can imagine, a hesitation for a lot of the prospective students is that it’s single-sex.” While most believe in the value of single-sex education in the classroom, many are not so thrilled at the idea of a limited social life. So the two schools, just 40 minutes apart, are linked by both formal, joint events and a whole lot of last-minute road trips. “For admissions for both schools to be able to say there’s a tight relationship there,” he said, “that eases a lot of concerns with prospective students.”
Hence “HSC for SBC” — which has lots of throwback photos from tailgate parties in the 1980s and ’90s — and an online fundraiser that asks anyone who has been affected by a Sweet Briar woman to make a small donation for a symbolic rose.
Lukanuski’s daughter has already applied to four other schools, but her engineering credits aren’t easy to transfer, she said. And she is expecting to be more of a tennis spectator at a bigger school than a varsity player, as she is at tiny Sweet Briar. Lukanuski said they told students: Yes, apply to other schools, have a backup plan. “But give us time.”