posted on: Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Last month I wrote a piece talking about how proud I was to have been educated at an all women's college. Here I was pouring my heart out onto my keyboard and thinking, "I'm trying to share the importance of a single sex institution so that they will still exist when my own daughter goes to university." I had no idea, at the time, that I might be writing about a place that wouldn't exist in just a few months' time. 

Last night I hosted a panel in central London with a group of four powerful women in the fashion industry. We sat upon our chairs at the front of the audience and we talked about how we got where we are today and what advice we would hand down to the women in the audience. Here's the one fact I forgot to share on the stage, but I had already shared on the page - I was sitting there because of Sweet Briar College. I knew it, I thought it and it made me smile as I spoke with wonderful and inspirational women all around me on the night. 

After closing the conversation for the evening, I had a chance to look at my emails for the first time in four hours, since arriving for the event. My phone had several missed calls and an overwhelming amount of messages on just about every communication portal. 

As I slipped into the back of an Uber to make my way home, I frantically started making me way through the messages, scared that someone had died and I had been on stage talking fashion as it happened. Well, thankfully I hadn't lost a close family member or friend, but something had certainly died as I was chatting about Chanel Hula Hoop bags. At around rush hour time in London, the world was made aware of the closing of Sweet Briar College, my alma mater.

For as long as I live, I'll never forget where I was as I read that the class of 2015 would be the final graduating class of Sweet Briar College. Passing over Portobello Road, I burst into tears and the tears went from complete sadness to uncontrollable rage. How on earth could an institution of 114 years simply close their doors, kicking out students, staff, and faculty? Why were alums not given the opportunity to save Sweet Briar? What would happen to 3300 acres of green mountain land that I had called home for four years physically, and home emotionally for all time? So many questions were rising to the surface, and I soon found that I was not alone in my outrage. Sweet Briar alums had taken to all social networks to declare this only the beginning. The college would not die. We would fight to find a way to keep it alive for future generations.

It all got me thinking even more. What could I possibly do, besides just writing a cheque myself, to help fuel the fire? I had shared my story and laid out for the world, as plain as can be, my pride in having attended Sweet Briar college. But I am just one person. Why not prove to the world that I am but one of thousands of women that have something to say about Sweet Briar college and why it should remain. 

So here I am, calling on the Sweet Briar women around me to take five minutes and share. Leave a comment below sharing your Sweet Briar moment, the reason this place cannot be shut down. Share a memory, a favourite tradition, the reason you decided to go there or what going there did to change your life. Let's allow this to land in the right hands - the hands of an individual who can help to fight for our beloved home on the hill, the bubble, the land of pink and green. 

This story is for you ladies to tell, in the public domain... take it from here and leave your comment below. 


  1. Pink and Green will live on forever in all of our hearts. Once a Sweet Briar woman, always a Sweet Briar woman! #savesweetbriar

  2. How do I feel about Sweet Briar College- In a word, PROUD, amazingly proud that I get to wear the rose with generations of women who came before and after me. Proud that a little bit of pink and green runs through all of us. I could say that Sweet Briar shaped me, but that would not be exactly true, she did so much more than that. Sweet Briar taught me to be me, which I think was far more valuable. Sweet Briar taught me that being myself was more important than popular convention, that my opinions were valid and noteworthy. Sweet Briar made my spine a little straighter, my voice a little louder, my friendships a little deeper.

    I think a lot of Alumnae feel the same way. For Sweet Briar the proof is in the pudding, and we are some mighty fine pudding. Our sistren are congresswomen, doctors, lawyers, business owners, scientists, accountants, and so much more. We are her troops and in times of battle you rally the troops. I think the board of directors made an imprudent decision in electing to not alert the Alumnae of their impending actions.

    We were taught that well behaved women seldom make history and that our voices matter. So put on your pearls ladies, we have work to do. #savesweetbriar #saveourschool #hellhole

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about everything that is happening. #savesweetbriar #thinkisforgirls

  4. Putting what Sweet Briar means to me into words seems an impossible task. There I changed from a shy 18 year old who rarely raised my hand in class, to a confident young woman with a voice. I doubt my law school classmates, and current colleagues, could imagine I'd ever been one to not fire off answers and speak my mind.

    Sweet Briar has felt like home since the moment I first stepped onto campus as a rising high school senior and prospective student. Though I have only been back to campus once in the 13 years since graduation, the moment I heard it was to close I felt like I'd lost my home. #SaveSweetBriar

    1. Amanda - we all feel the same. We're losing a home that changed us all in a way that most people outside the SBC community could never truly understand.

  5. I grew up in Napa, CA, about 2,400 miles from Sweet Briar, VA. It might as well have been on a different planet. The amount of fried food and the humidity alone were enough to make this California Girl want to hop on the next Turbo-Prop Plane headed west. Fortunately, there was something about this place, the brick buildings, rolling hills, and constant hum of the cicadas that made me stick it out that first August.

    It turns out that "something" was the Sweet Briar Community. The community was more than just my classmates. The community included the lovely women who cleaned our dorms and provided advice and hugs when your boyfriend was being an idiot, the gentleman who made your morning omelets with a hearty laugh, and the physical plant teams that would help you dig our your cars in the winter. We also had professors who invited you to dinner at their homes, coaches who let you love on your dogs, and campus police that would escort your from the creepy Elijah parking lot to your dorm at 4am.

    I have too many memories to appropriately share here, but this one is important – I had the pleasure to visit Sweet Briar about three years ago for a wonderful friend’s wedding. I spent two days on campus exploring, remembering, and possibly painting the rock and the hitching post in the middle of the night. When it was time to head back to the airport, I felt this overwhelming sense of sadness. As I drove away, with tears silently streaming down my face, I realized the feeling was the same as when I left Napa for Sweet Briar. I was leaving home and I didn’t know when I would be back.
    Sweet Briar is one of my homes, and will always live in my heart, no matter what happens. That cannot be taken away.

    1. Oh Lisa, I know we all feel the same. So many memories that will never be erased, ever. But so sad to think that anything else could ever exist in the same place.

  6. "Sweet Briar College
    Where Women are Leaders
    And Men are Guests"

    I saw this bumper sticker on a random car at Hampden-Sydney College while dropping my older brother off his freshman year. I remember thinking I had never heard of Sweet Briar College, but wherever it was, that was where I wanted to go to college. With that still in my mind I arranged a visit to SBC & by the time I drove past the Guard House my mind was made up. I knew instinctively there was not another college such as Sweet Briar in the world.

  7. You already touched on the amazing friendships and sisterhood, the benefits of the all-female environment, etc. I whole-heartedly agree. Like you, I didn't expect to attend a single-sex school - and like you, I'll always be grateful that I did!

    Of course I share your awe at the beauty of the campus. Once I visited, it was hard to picture myself anywhere else…and I didn't want to. As a student, I can remember literally stopping in my tracks and gazing in amazement at the beauty of the trees in the dell in their autumn glory. The foothills of the Blue Ridge were always a beautiful sight and the campus buildings always struck me as looking exactly how college buildings ought to look.

    But Sweet Briar is much more than just a pretty (but that doesn't do it justice - it's absolutely gorgeous) campus. I remember attending a weekend for prospective students and getting the opportunity to use the scanning electron microscope. I was so excited! When I got back to my high school the next week, I excitedly showed my SEM pictures to my biology class. I thought it was awesome that first year students (and even prospective students) had access to that kind of equipment as well as research opportunities.

    One of the main reasons I attended Sweet Briar is because I really wanted to have professors whose first priority was teaching and who genuinely cared about their students. As a student, I regularly dined with my professors at Prothro. I can tell you that none of my friends who went to large schools can say that! I double majored in math and computer science and the Kirkwoods were kind enough to host a special graduation party for several of us math majors and our families. This was after a number of dinners at their house senior year. Again, this is something my high school friends who attended other colleges couldn't imagine.

    After graduation, I spent the summer at SBC assisting with the NSF-funded "Biomathematics Initiative at Sweet Briar College". I was so happy to have that extra time on the campus and to be working with the Kirkwoods and Raina Robeva. This initiative eventually led to the publishing of "An Invitation to Biomathematics" - Raina Robeva, Jim Kirkwood and Dr. Davies were authors and I believe this was the first textbook of its kind. Not bad for a small, rural school :-)

  8. Originially, I never would have imagined that I would have spent my college years at an all women’s college, it just simply wasn’t something I felt strongly about when applying to colleges. High school for me was a top-tier coed boarding school. The college counselors prided themselves on finding the perfect spot for everyone and Ivy League was key. I remember my college counselor suggesting Hollins, Mary Baldwin and Sweet Briar because I wanted to stay in Virginia. I also remember laughing at my college counselor, and thinking, I would never go the single-sex route. Well, that single-sex route happened for me, I had a couple of offers for a full-ride to colleges throughout the south and midwest, and as I mentioned, I did not want to leave Virginia. A couple of my mother’s good friends were also SBC grads and were pushing hard for me to enroll. So, on Father’s Day in 1998, I took a trip with my parents to Amherst and the memories of riding in the backseat of my parents station wagon won’t leave me. So simply here’s why Sweet Briar cannot close:

    1. Who attends a college where they eat lunch with their professors ON A REGULAR BASIS. Sweet Briar professors and coaches challenge their students. Professor Ascari (Italian professor) would often call my dorm room to ask why I wasn’t in class. Whatever excuse I would come up with, she would want to discuss. If I was tired from a field hockey game, she would suggest that I get more sleep. If I told her that I was struggling with my accent in Italian class, she would bring me to her office. At a large university I would have gone unnoticed from class, I probably would have been a number in a seat without a voice. At SBC I was Katherine, (aka Kati in Mrs. Ascari’s class) a student, a charge, a part of a family. In Mrs. Ascari’s class, sitting around a table with 10 students, I was accountable for my progress. If I didn’t do my homework, I never wanted to be sitting in her class. What undergraduate university or college in America treats their students like grad students? I can tell you that I felt that challenge and expectation in the classroom at SBC, and that was only my freshman year.

    2. At SBC I participated in two seasons of sports. I had offers from Division 1 schools before SBC and thank God I chose SBC. To be an athlete in college is challenging, but to be a student and an athlete in college is a balancing act. SBC never allowed athletics to cloud academics. It was always obvious what came first to everyone and that clearly was the classroom. We had to have permission slips from our professors to leave class early. If we didn’t have those papers signed, we missed a game. Go tell that to the D-1 athletes that can’t even spell their names. It’s such a shame the money that Division 1 schools make on their sports programs funds so many other parts of schools and their athletes don’t even attend a class that a professor teaches..instead they are a number in a seat with a shoddy grad student teacher. (sorry for the rant) Jennifer Crispen's legacy should keep the SBC going. That woman was a one woman force to be reckoned with. She, like all of the other professors at SBC, held her students and athletes accountable. She had meetings with us in her office, she wanted to know what inspired us, what frustrated us, what the point in our education was. She cared. She simply cared.

    3. Nine Lainge (am I spelling her name correctly?) The only reason I ever went on to study art history. I mean, come on, you had to have had one of her classes? Compelling, right? Standing at the podium in the classroom she had authority, She was a chemistry major, understood how the artist’s materials interacted with the medium, she knew the science of the art, but she only cared about the story and about each student understanding it all.

  9. 4. The friends. The friends we all made. Across class lines. The friends became family, the lines blurred. Really, at the end of the day, what else matters? Friends and family. 5 out of 7 bridesmaids in my wedding were roommates from SBC, the other “2 loners” were family members. What more should I say? As girls we came to the school, we didn’t really leave as women, but we came close. We created and made lasting friendships that would carry us into the start of our post-collegiate lives.

    5. What are the H-SC men going to do. Seriously, they will now have options that are not so compelling. Sweet Briar women are SMART, we are challenged, we are VIXENS, we have the BOATHOUSE, we have authority, confidence, intelligence. We should not allow the college to dissolve. I believe that the school has the alumnae base to survive, we must simply tap the crowd. Are we really willing wo bury our schools? I think not. This is my rally call.

    Vixens rising!

  10. Sweet Briar is a college where girls turn into strong and capable women. They meet their best friends and make memories they will cherish for a lifetime! The professors and staff go the extra mile to help you succeed. It is a place where you always feel welcomed, your second home and you can't imagine being without this special place. We all took it for granted while we were there, and every time I go back I savor the moments and adore the ones I get to spend with current students. To see them have the same spark in their eyes that I had in mine is awesome!!

  11. Emily Ghiz '926 March 2015 at 05:39

    The Sweet Briar tradition which summarizes everything that makes this college such a special place and which also makes it stand out above all others for all time for me, is the Honor Code. The faculty, administration and staff trusted us when we pledged to guarantee the validity of our word, maintain absolute honesty in our work, and respect the property of others. Those high standards were truly an integral part of life at Sweet Briar, and provided the foundation for student life. What other institution trusts its students to the point that all exams are self-scheduled and unproctored? A very special and unique place, and worth saving.