Scripps Accommodates Sweet Briar After Women's College Announces Closure

When Sweet Briar College President James F. Jones announced March 3 that the women's college would close in late August, the students, faculty and staff gathered in Babcock Auditorium fell utterly silent. After the emergency announcement about the college's complex financial circumstances, students trickled out of the auditorium and into the wordless embraces of professors, staff members and peers from other class years. Classes were cancelled for the rest of the day, and midterms were postponed until the next week to allow students time to grieve; but within 24 hours, a #savesweetbriar campaign had begun online. 

"It felt then as if there had been a tremendous death in the family," Celia Lee, a senior at Sweet Briar, wrote in an email to TSL. "The week of March third was the worst week of my life, but in a way, it also felt like a beginning for Sweet Briar. We came together and are still fighting strong." 

The sudden decision to shut down the 114-year-old liberal arts college in rural Virginia came as an utter shock to both the Sweet Briar community and institutions of higher education across the country. While Sweet Briar students, alumnae, faculty members and parents have taken swift legal action and collectively protested the closure, current students have been placed in a difficult situation in their forced transition from the college. 

 To provide support for Sweet Briar’s announcement, the Scripps College Board of Trustees passed a resolution waiving minimum residency graduation requirements to help students who have been forced to find alternative options for the coming year.

“I’m very sad for the students, the alums, the faculty, the staff, the people of the community,” Scripps President Lori Bettison-Varga said. “My heart goes out to them.”

In the wake of Sweet Briar's announcement, Bettison-Varga joined other institutions of higher education, such as Hollins College, in spearheading an effort to help current students in the transfer process.  

“I wanted to be able for the college to say if a student who wants to transfer from Sweet Briar to Scripps meets our requirements and gets accepted, they can graduate,” Bettison-Varga said.

Lee, who is graduating from Sweet Briar in May with a degree in creative writing, explained that many students entering their final year of study have faced issues in applying to transfer to various colleges. 

“Originally, it was worded as if students that are juniors would graduate in a year, like normal,” Lee wrote. “However, many colleges are now saying that they cannot offer a ‘year,’ and now are saying it will take two years for the juniors to graduate with their majors.”

Scripps’ transfer policy states that students must complete a minimum of 16 units in-residence at the college. Bettison-Varga and college faculty proposed a recommendation in a Faculty Executive Committee meeting March 12 that this requirement be waived for Sweet Briar students who have more than the equivalent 16 Scripps credits and meet all of the Scripps graduation requirements.

The Scripps Board of Trustees discussed the recommendation at their retreat March 13 and adopted a resolution particular to Sweet Briar students March 15, which stated that "the College’s in-residence course requirement may be waived for any qualifying transfer student who was a student in residence at Sweet Briar College in the 2014-15 academic year."

Scripps art professor Nancy Macko, who held an artist residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Sweet Briar in 1989, said that the faculty was unanimously in favor of supporting students with the recommendation.

“I think that the fact that we’re going to make it possible for Sweet Briar students to transfer is fantastic,” Macko said. “We really stepped up, we really want to be supportive."

Scripps’ transfer coordinator reached out to Sweet Briar to notify the college of waived requirements for interested students. The admissions office did not extend its transfer application deadline of April 1, but did push back its regular decision deadline for students admitted Early Decision to Sweet Briar. All transfer applicants, including the small number that Scripps received from Sweet Briar, are being considered equally and will be notified of their admission decision in mid-May.

While Lee wrote that Sweet Briar students are "angry... but heartbroken and fighting strong," she is grateful that Scripps has made an effort to accommodate transfer applications. 

"We cannot thank Scripps enough for their continued support for our community," Lee wrote. "Your accommodations made for our students shows us that we are not alone, and surely have a community of strong women who are here to help us in whatever way they can." 

Annie Carroll SC '17, a transfer student in her first semester at Scripps, believes that Scripps' accommodation of transfer applicants is essential in responding to Sweet Briar's closure. 

"I think that giving the girls the opportunity to transfer is the best possible thing that Scripps could do," Carroll said. 

According to the Women’s College Coalition, the closure of Sweet Briar will lower the number of U.S. women’s colleges to 44, down from 230 colleges 50 years ago. While Sweet Briar alumna Zehra Asghar explained in an email to TSL that “it was very clear that Sweet Briar was not attracting the optimum number of students as per its capacity,” both Sweet Briar and Scripps students said that they don’t think a disinterest in women’s colleges is the issue at hand for the college. 

“All-women's education is an invaluable experience that is a vital asset to higher education,” Lee wrote. “Women's colleges are relevant and always will be relevant as long as there are women pursing higher education.”

Caroll agreed, saying that she believes women's colleges are and will remain an important part of higher education. 

“If anything, this whole situation highlights the fact that we really need women’s education,” Carroll said.