Following 114 years of educating women, Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Virginia, is closing its doors due to financial concerns. Despite a $94 million endowment, the women’s liberal arts college’s close comes at a time when women’s education is a particularly important discussion on Wellesley’s campus in light of the College’s recent decision to admit trans women.
Given that Sweet Briar administrators cited their decision to close based on students’ declining interest in small liberal arts colleges, and particularly, female students interested in a women’s college, The Wellesley News Editorial Staff stands by both the value of a liberal arts education and the relevance of women’s colleges in the 21st century.
Sweet Briar is not alone in terms of financial instability; according to the Washington Post, the number of flourishing women’s colleges just 50 years ago — 230 — has diminished to just over 40 colleges today. As a result, students who attended these institutions at the time of their closing were forced to merge with another college or transfer somewhere else.These transitions can be difficult; in addition to adjusting to a new campus, professors and social life, students at Sweet Briar will also have to adjust to a co-ed peer group. This poses challenges to students who specifically seek out a women’s college like Sweet Briar as a safe space for women.
While it is understandable that Sweet Briar might have to close eventually, doing so with such abruptness is an irresponsible decision for current students that will result in jagged academic and social transitions as well as an unexpectedly fragmented college experience.
The recent announcement of Sweet Briar’s closing, however, has been met with earnest protest. The recent organization started by Sweet Briar alumnae, “Saving Sweet Briar,” has raised over $2 million dollars in the past week and serves as a testament to the strength and value of a women’s college and alumnae network. The organization serves as proof that a women’s college education is still valued in the face of financial hardship and provides hope that Sweet Briar can remain among the few women’s colleges left where young women can find a space of empowerment and sisterhood.
Sweet Briar was often called the “Wellesley of the South.” We as the Wellesley community have the responsibility to provide our support in whatever way we can to students at Sweet Briar, whether that be offering our support to students directly or spreading the word about “Saving Sweet Briar.” To lose a college campus, relationships with professors, and most importantly, a community of peers is unimaginable for many of us.
While Wellesley celebrates its reaffirmation to women’s education and is equipped with a strong endowment, we need to remember that outside the “Wellesley bubble,” women’s education is not something to be taken for granted, and now more than ever, is certainly worth fighting for.
Photo Courtesy of Sweet Briar College