Category Archives: Saving Sweet Briar

Would You Like to Save a College, Be a Hero? An Open Letter to Philanthropists Everywhere…

"O.K., I know its a long shot, but if we can convert just one lion..." by KANIN
“O.K., I know its a long shot, but if we can convert just one lion…” by KANIN

As a fundraiser working on fundraising campaigns, there are always suggestions that perhaps some very generous person might step in to “save” the Campaign.  My response usually goes like this:

While that is a really great suggestion, research shows that the way we will meet our goal is to first look at ourselves and ask if we have given our very BEST gift.  Then, we turn to those closest to us and ask if we have thoughtfully met with those individuals and encouraged them to make their very BEST gift.  Beyond that, we divide up names of those previously generous and reach out to them to ask them to consider additional generosity.  Then, and only then, would I suggest looking outside of our Community to someone previously unaffiliated. Because usually someone unaffiliated with our cause is not likely to respond.

Even when I give this response, there is always someone who says, “What about Warren Buffet?  Perhaps HE would be willing to contribute.” or “(Insert Wealthy Person’s Name), surely would want to be involved???”  Usually this stems from the person feeling so passionate about their fundraising effort that they cannot imagine EVERYONE wouldn’t want to give.

Forget what I usually say.  It is time to throw caution to the wind…

THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND!
THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND!

In the case of saving Sweet Briar College; however, it is time for bold and courageous action.  It is time to reach out beyond our community.  The issues at stake here are relevant to anyone who cares about  nonprofits; who loves a place that might face closure; who feels a sense of duty to give back; who puts trust in a governing board and feels betrayed by them; who counts on their charitable gifts to be used as intended; whose children start in Freshman year and expect to graduate as a Senior; who applied to and was accepted to a College only to learn from social media that your application is now worthless; who believe a will should be held in trust…

Forget what I said.  It’s time to point over the fence, declare we will hit a home run and make some bold calls.

1960: Mickey Mantle hit a home run over the right field roof.  Babe Ruth is famous for pointing before hitting a homer.
1960: Mickey Mantle hit a home run over the right field roof. Babe Ruth is famous for pointing before hitting a homer.

In the effort to keep Sweet Briar College open, I am throwing caution to the wind.  I am open to any and all suggestions.  I am telling people to look at themselves, each other and their community.  I am pointing over the fence, over the right field roof and WAY outside of our community.

This past week I was called about a potential donor who it has been noted has considered (and retracted) nine-figure philanthropic suggestions — $100 million to be exact.  When it was first explained to me, it came across that this donor actually might be interested in contributing to Sweet Briar.  I WAS SO EXCITED!  Turns out, this lead came from a consultant of a friend of a Sweet Briar alumna — and the consultant had heard there was a donor in Richmond we might look up.

That old mantra in my head nearly kicked into gear.  Not this time.  Instead, I put some of my fellow alumnae to work on finding contact information and perhaps shared contacts.  Then I decided I would write an open letter to him.  Because – really – this letter could go to anyone.

"The Long Shot" - Greenberg
“The Long Shot” – Greenberg

Dear Supremely Philanthropic Person,

Have you ever wanted to be a hero?  I can tell you how.

Would you like to make an impact on the world?  I can tell you how.

How would you like to save a College?

I know this may sound crazy.  I know I should have taken you to at least 10 lunches before having this conversation.  I know I should be making this appeal with the President of the College sitting next to me on a chair in your office.  I know this should have come from someone you know well.  I know all of this because I have worked at Sweet Briar where I was well trained in how fundraising “should” be done, but we have realized that we must break from what we know — and who we know — hence this letter.

I imagine you have heard through your local, regional and national media of the efforts to keep Sweet Briar College from closing.  Founded by a generous woman, Indiana Fletcher Williams, in memory of her daughter, Sweet Briar has served as a woman’s College for over a century.  Its fate is now uncertain based on the decision in March by a small group, the current Board.

Since that time, thousands including students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and the community have rallied for a different future.  For the future to unfold, it will take a tremendous act of generosity and vision.  We hope you might consider this act. YOU will be part of history — and beloved by thousands.

I am sure you have many questions.  Allow me to hit the most important:  Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.

WHO are you saving?  

STUDENTS - the reason Sweet Briar exists and the primary reason it should be saved!
STUDENTS – the reason Sweet Briar exists and the primary reason it should be saved!

WHAT are you saving?

3,000 acres, historic buildings, renovated state-of-the-art facilities.
3,000 acres, historic buildings, renovated state-of-the-art facilities.

WHEN?

WHERE?

  • Sweet Briar College sits next to Amherst, Virginia.  It is an hour south of Charlottesville and a half hour from Lynchburg.
  • The historic architecture designed by Ralph Adams Cram sits on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The alumnae of the College live all across the globe providing a strong network of philanthropy, admissions recruitment, volunteerism and community.  You will never be a stranger in the home of a Sweet Briar woman.
  • They serve Starbucks on campus, so you don’t have to worry about proximity to a good cup of Joe (in case you, like the Board, were worried about that).

WHY?

  • The why is the WHO (see above), but it is also….
  • Woman’s education produces leaders, particularly in fields with shortages of women and diversity.  The world, corporate America, the nation’s classrooms, the world’s boardrooms needs MORE women’s college graduates, not fewer.
  • Diversity. Sweet Briar recently (and many feel finally) became more diverse in all ways and including race, ethnicity, socio economic levels.   Research shows the benefits of a diverse student body for the entire community.  The current board cites this change as one of the reasons it must close and that this trend is not sustainable.  Diversity is one of the saving graces and strengths of Sweet Briar today.  These students deserve this education and the world needs these students.  Philanthropy is one of the ways diversity can be maintained.
  • Faculty – Sweet Briar College faculty are exceptional.  Unlike larger Universities, they are also approachable.  Classes are not led by teaching assistants.  From the moment students arrive on campus, they are surrounded by an exceptional faculty whose accomplishments are summarized here.  It took years and a century of establishing a strong reputation to attract, hire and retain these amazing leaders — we must not lose them!
  • Sweet Briar College is regularly listed as one of the BEST Colleges in the country for:
    • Student Engagement
    • Quality of Education
    • Liberal Arts Education
    • Alumnae Network
    • Beautiful Campus

HOW?  For the future to unfold, it will also take change.

  • Change. Change which all associated with the College (who wish for it to continue) are committed to embrace.  This change is in the form of solid plans, talented administrators, dedicated board members and loyal students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and the wider community.
  • Plans.  There is a strategic plan thoughtfully crafted by experts in their field.  This plan addresses all aspects of College operations from admissions to development to land use to facility management.
  • New Leadership. Several potential Presidents with proven turnaround track records have been vetted and willing to lead. A slate of board members both nominated and recruited for their dedication and professional expertise stands ready to serve.
  • Retaining Talent. Sweet Briar has amazing faculty who are willing to stay.  Talented administrators including some loyal and currently serving and others identified for their proven expertise can step in to manage.
  • Legal.  Saving Sweet Briar secured Troutman Saunders to assist with the legal work.  To date they have secured a 60 day injunction.  Another attorney, Elliott Schugardt, secured a six month injunction.
  • Dedicated Alumnae. I, along with thousands of others, are willing to do all in our power for the future.  We do not ask you to consider a gift before giving ourselves.
  • Charitable Status!  Saving Sweet Briar has been granted its 501(C)3 status.

Generous donor, would you consider making Sweet Briar College one of your philanthropic priorities this year?  Would you help save this College?

Thank you so much for your thoughtful consideration and for all you are doing for the causes important to you.

PLEASE consider this request.  PLEASE save Sweet Briar College!

Very sincerely (and with strong desperation),

Stacey Sickels Locke, Class of 1988

I, Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, am a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  I served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, I solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and I feel a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, I have spent my career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, I have served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.  I am a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), am affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and hold a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE

 

 

 

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“Pride, Pomp and Circumstance…of War”

Stacey Sickels Locke, Class of 1988, graduation day.
Stacey Sickels Locke, Class of 1988, graduation day.

All across America, it is graduation season.  “Pomp and Circumstance” by Elgar will be played endlessly as graduates float across the stage.  Usually, this is a time of celebration.  Not at Sweet Briar College.  Elgar’s March in D Major “Pomp and Circumstance” is based on the final line in a Stanza from Shakespeare.   That line has an eerie significance when one considers the current state of Sweet Briar College:

Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!  

– Shakespeare “Othello”, Act 3 (from which Elgar took the title for the famous Graduation March)

On my graduation day in 1988, I arose early and took a walk.  My mother french braided my hair and tucked a sweet briar rose into the sides.  I wore a floral dress, pearls and a pair of heels with VERY pointed toes (very 1980s fashion).

Nenah Fry was President.  Karen Lawson, Class of 1974, was the Distinguished Alumna Awardee.   I knew the Board of Directors members personally, including Michela English who sat on the graduation platform.  I not only trusted them all, my first job came as a result of one board member.  My English professors, Ross Dabney, Ralph Aiken and Karl Tamburr hosted a reception Saturday afternoon.  The Rev. Susan Lehman had a party on Sunday for all who practically lived at her home as students.   My Psychology professors, Susan Beers and David Johnson, had a bar-b-que on Friday afternoon. Graduation was filled with hope for me, my classmates and the College.  Robert Barlow, Dean of Students, and his entire family were part of my family in the four years prior, that weekend and in the years since. The campus was at its peak with flowering trees blooming, carefully cut grass and celebrations planned throughout the weekend.  This was my Sweet Briar.  This was my graduation.

At Sweet Briar College, the Class of 2015 will awake on Saturday morning to a very different future.  The alumnae of Sweet Briar across the country and around the world will awake with a sense of gloom.   It is hard to imagine, but imagine this:

Imagine receiving word just two months ago as a student, faculty, staff, alumna or community member that this is to be “the last commencement”.  The President and Board have voted to close.

Banners protesting the closure and leadership hung from balconies, the bell tower and buildings.
Banners protesting the closure and leadership hung from balconies, the bell tower and buildings.

Imagine seeing bedsheets unfurled from balconies and the belltower with student protests.

Imagine the alumnae mobilizing to fight the closure, hiring legal counsel and filing an official suit against the President and Board Chair.

Imagine learning that the College plans to use donations to close the College.

Imagine being an alumna receiving a letter asking for permission to use your generous contribution (or that of your departed loved one) to close the College.

Imagine your faculty with a 100% vote of no confidence in the President and Board.  Imagine those same faculty receiving termination notices.

Imagine a court hearing in nearby Bedford granting a 60 day injunction forbiding the College from spending endowment to close.

Imagine another attorney offering pro bono representation for students, faculty and staff and being successful in gaining a six-month injunction against closure activities.

Imagine learning that the Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring, actually sat down with the President and Board Chair to “wind down” the endowment.  To whom do you have to turn?

Imagine your shock learning that the former President and Vice President of Finance had met with Hollins University to discuss a merger several years earlier!  Imagine hearing the President had already received “offers” from interested parties in Sweet Briar.

Imagine the food in Prothro Commons (the dining hall) once so delicious becoming less and less and eventually inedible (to the point where the health department had to be called).

Imagine alumnae around the country hosting fundraisers and rallies against the closure and watching the commitments rise.

Imagine seeing your College in the local, regional and national news.  Articles about closure.  Stories about fraud.

Imagine leaders not affiliated with Sweet Briar alleging fraud and calling upon the FBI to investigate.

Imagine news trucks daily coming to campus exploring stories, allegations and asking for your opinion.

Imagine having to transfer to another College when you wished to stay.

Class of 1988 at Step Singing our senior year.
Class of 1988 at Step Singing our senior year.

Imagine you are a student awaking on the morning of your graduation…

…..Your graduation speaker is party to the suit against the College.

…..Your faculty has asked the President not to attend.

…..Your alumnae are fighting to keep the College alive.

You do not have to imagine.  This reality is unfolding at Sweet Briar College.

Graduation will be lovely.  Pomp and Circumstance will play.  Daisies will be exchanged for roses.  Diplomas will be accepted.  The College song will be sung.  Families will take photos.  Everyone will go home.

Yet, all of this takes place against this surreal scene.  One alumna, Robin Lindsay Frantz, posted this photo:

Robin Lindsay Frantz' creative statement on Commencement 2015
Robin Lindsay Frantz’ creative statement on Commencement 2015

Shakespeare’s original lines from which Elgar took his line for Pomp and Circumstance are fitting.  It is “Pomp, Circumstance and…War”.

My hope is that students years from now will look back on their pictures from the 2015 graduation and know that their education was used for something good.  I hope they look back and remember they were part of the future — and that they fought in this war to save the College.  It may be the most important fight of their education.

I know I will look back on 2015 with no regrets.  I have put my all into saving the College I love.  I do feel I have been at war over the past few months.  The sides have changed. The battles lines drawn.  The legal battles waged, won and lost.

It seems fitting to end with the actual words to Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” which actually were not written by Elgar.  Arthur Benson wrote the words later.  His chorus is the section repeated over and over as graduates cross the stage, “Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free, How shall we extol thee, Who are born of thee? Wider still and wider Shall thy bounds be set; God, who made thee mighty, Make thee mightier yet”

It sounds like a song written for Sweet Briar, Indiana Fletcher Williams and the mighty fight that is now waged:

Dear Land of Hope, thy hope is crowned.
God make thee mightier yet!
On Sov’ran brows, beloved, renowned,
Once more thy crown is set.
Thine equal laws, by Freedom gained,
Thine equal laws, by Freedom gained,
By Freedom gained, by Truth maintained,
Thine Empire shall be strong.

Land of Hope and Glory,
Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee,
Who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider
Shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty,
Make thee mightier yet.

Thy fame is ancient as the days,
As Ocean large and wide:
A pride that dares, and heeds not praise,
A stern and silent pride:
Not that false joy that dreams content
With what our sires have won;
The blood a hero sire hath spent
Still nerves a hero son.

— Arthur Christopher Benson (1862-1925)

 

 

Stacey Sickels Locke receiving her diploma.  May, 1988
Stacey Sickels Locke receiving her diploma. May, 1988

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
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Sweet Briar College – “Consider Yourself Home” (and an answer to why I am fighting to save her)

"Consider Yourself Home" - this sums up what Sweet Briar means to me (one of the banners lining the driveway to campus)
“Consider Yourself Home” – this sums up what Sweet Briar means to me (one of the banners lining the driveway to campus)

I feel the need to provide some background about my relationship with Sweet Briar College.  Every alumna has a reason why they are devastated at the prospect of her (yes, we often refer to her as “she” or “her”) closing.  Many who know me don’t understand the personal and professional energy I am spending in support of the movement to stop the closure.  Here is what I have to say on that….

Summary

A school psychologist (also an alumna) asked a question on Facebook about how she could inspire her K-12 students to feel as passionate about something as she is seeing the thousands of women rallying to save Sweet Briar.  My response to her distilled my own thinking:

To me it is the sense of belonging through the different ways people connect – cohort groups – a fundamental human need, as you know, is a sense of belonging – home – shelter being the most basic. This is a place we learned and LIVED. It was and is HOME for us. It was home at a time when we were growing into women from girls. The experience of College alone pushed us more than we had ever been pushed. Then, there are the friendships that endure and those hearts are intertwined across the country and continents. then there is the fact that some came with broken hearts and broken lives and they were repaired a bit at Sweet Briar by loving faculty, staff, the Chaplain and others. For me, I had four high schools before coming to Sweet Briar. It was home to me and was the longest place I had lived up to that point in my life. I always knew I could go back and I cannot imagine a world without Sweet Briar in it.

Prior to Sweet Briar College

Prior to Sweet Briar College, I had four high schools.  Yes, four.  I did not attend these high schools in a tidy order either.  My father’s job and career progression (which I feel the need to insert I admire and do not regret) moved us in the middle of each year of high school.

When I applied to Sweet Briar, I lived in Severna Park, Maryland.  Prior to that, I lived in Roanoke, Virginia; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Kansas City, Kansas and St. Louis, Missouri.  Those are the places I remember.  There were a few more moves before that.

You might think would leave to academic disaster, but it didn’t.  I was able to pursue a college-level track of courses, including some APs and honors courses, but I did find a shocking disconnect across our country between curriculum even for courses leading to national tests, but that is a topic for another blog post.

You might think I would become a complete loner or perhaps have social challenges.  True, moving and being a “new girl” is absolutely something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but the lessons I learned I wouldn’t trade for anything.  The friends I made are life long friends in each place.  The values I learned in sticking up for those who didn’t have a voice stick with me to this day.  But that is another topic for another post.

When I considered Colleges, the one thing I wanted was a place that felt like home.  I had not thought about a woman’s college, a rural college or even a small or large college.  I just wanted a place where I could put down roots and focus for an extended period of time on my academics, my interests and my social life (which had also taken quite a hit).

Choosing Sweet Briar

I chose Sweet Briar because the admissions representatives wrote real letters, postcards and got to know me as a person.  I chose Sweet Briar because the admissions materials showed a beautiful place with happy, smiling faces.  I chose Sweet Briar because the academics and the professors were solid and award winning.  Once I came up the long driveway and came on campus, I chose it because it felt like home.

View of campus from Monument Hill
View of campus from Monument Hill

The Campus

Sweet Briar is situated on 3,000 hilly acres.  A former plantation ( a fact that wasn’t widely explored when I attended, but I am pleased to see is now embraced and used as social justice and history education now), the College buildings were designed by famous architect, Ralph Adams Cram.  A boxwood garden, estimated to be over 200 years old, surrounds an elegant “farm house”.  I didn’t appreciate all of this at the time, but the buildings did make one feel a sense of permance, grace and protection.

“The Quad” unfolds from the Chapel.  The Chapel became an important place to me, a place where I embraced my Episcopal roots, was confirmed, sat on the Committee to recruit the next Chaplain, The Rev. Susan Lehman (who would become a lifelong mentor), and where I often went just to think, cry and do homework.  There are many nooks on campus that students can make their own.

“Faculty row” and housing for faculty and staff served as a neighborhood of nearby adults, professors, mentors, friends and great prospects for house-sitting and baby sitting.  My favorite was the Chaplain’s house.  Susan Lehman would let me sleep over when I was feeling particularly in need of some parental attention.  Her husband, John was a writer and I remember his entire office being covered with plot lines for various novels.  Everyone’s favorite part of the Chaplain’s house was the basement — because she had boxes of broken china (which she would buy at thrift sales) that you could smash if you felt like it.  It’s tremendously satisfying, I recommend it over any type of therapy.

The Boathouse is perhaps the most charming of places on campus. The timber structure has a balcony overlooking the lake and, inside, a large great room with soaring ceiling and a large hearth.  On the lower level the slips are covered and, when the sun is shining, the water reflects on the ceiling.  There is a slight echoing sound created from the water lapping the dock which sounds slightly like being in a cave.

One of my regrets is that I never hiked to the “cabin”.  There was a fully stocked cabin up in the woods where you could spend a weekend.

Technology from 1988 - we had only three Macintosh computers which had to be signed out in hour blocks.
Technology from 1988 – we had only three Macintosh computers which had to be signed out in hour blocks.

Attending Sweet Briar

While beautiful – incredibly beautiful – what most made Sweet Briar feel like home were the faculty and staff.  I chose to major in English and Psychology, the closest combination of subjects I thought I could use in sales or marketing, my father’s profession.  I did not have ideas of what I would do when I entered, but Sweet Briar pointed in the direction that would be my career.

All of my courses were amazing.  Any one of them I would go back and retake for pure enjoyment, even the tough ones.  Micro-economics was taught by a dynamic Chris Pikrallidas (who I am delighted to learn is a superstar at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia). Chris insisted that we learn applicable skills and begin to think about how business would be relevant to us whether we majored in it or not.  I seriously considered it.

My love of reading gravitated me towards English, but I would soon learn the rigors of a Sweet Briar education.  Ralph Aiken divided up my Freshman English class into groups of two.  We picked one day a week when we would meet.  He with a pipe settled into a wing-backed chair, me nearly trembling with anxiety over the possible lack of preparation.  He had learned this method at Oxford and thought it was “worthy of repeating”.  Karl Tamburr brought a humor into the classroom.  He read with great passion and pushed his students to write — a LOT.  Ross Dabney’s reading aloud was the purest form of entertainment and learning.  There were classes where the end of class would arrive and none of us even budged urging him to go just a bit further.  Susan Beers, my psychology professor, would laugh when I arrived (late) after one of those classes, “Dabney was reading aloud again, wasn’t he?”

I double majored in English and Psychology (a fact which I marvel at now did not cost any extra as we paid a fixed amount, not by the credit hour).  I still draw upon concepts I learned during this time and refer to the textbooks.

Class of 1988 at Step Singing our senior year.
Class of 1988 at Step Singing our senior year.

Community

Sweet Briar does not have sororities, but it has many ways to find connection.  In my Freshman year, I was voted by my class as a “Q.V.”, a group of classmates who do nice things for their class during their Junior year.  It is an honor I am grateful for to this day both for the connection to fellow Q.V.s as well as for the ideas of leaving secret surprises for people.  I still do things like this for my family and colleagues.  The group met in secret – which made for some very scary nights – and we made secret “drops” in the middle of the night – some of my life’s most terrifying memories.  Because, as it so happens, there is an opposing tap Club, the “Bum Chums”, whose role it is to find Q.V.s   On the final night before step singing, my friend Minta and I stayed at the President’s House.  We were discovered at about 1am and learned later that the back porch, a bright green, had been freshly painted.  Green paint was tracked through the living room up to the bedroom where we slept.

I served on the Student Government Association.  This was where I found my voice, particularly to my elders, men and those in authority.  I think this is one of the lingering lessons of a women’s education.  I also learned to practice this voice while also being polite, a delicate balance.  Many of my male and female mentors at Sweet Briar not only helped me in this regard, they helped me find the words that could fit in my mouth by talking through issues, helping me see multiple perspectives and finding a way to express my own.

Working at Sweet Briar

My career in development began at Sweet Briar.  Martha Clement, an icon of the College, recruited me to be a phonathon caller over breakfast after morning prayer one morning.  She said, “Tonight we are giving away records.  You aren’t afraid to talk to people – you should try it.”  My roommate, Leslie Corrado, had a turntable.  I was determined to come home with a record (Leslie was so generous with sharing things with me).  I took a stack of cards and climbed the stairs to the attic of the Development Office.  The phones were separated by compartments.  I made my first call to California and discovered the nuances of time zones – I had reached a family over dinner.  I later used those time zones to my advantage sorting my cards in order of time zone and calling until well into the night.   I made the top of the leaderboard that night and brought home the AC/DC record (which neither Leslie nor I liked).   I was hooked.  Within a few weeks, I would be given the most challenging cases and I took cards home to call  mid-day for people we never reached in the evenings.  By my senior year, I had a part-time job in the Development Office.  To this day, I ALWAYS am nice to phonathon callers….

At my 5th Reunion, I was recruited to work at Sweet Briar.  After Sweet Briar, I got a position as an event planner at Courtesy Associates in Washington, DC.  I lived with my friend from College, Christina Savage when I wasn’t commuting to and from Annapolis.

Sweet Briar promised to teach me development and that they did.  My boss, Denise McDonald, was an amazing mentor offering me manuals from her past work and coaching me through calls, editing letters and allowing me to shadow her with donor calls and group meetings.  Mitch Moore, Vice President of Development, was also quick to share advice and suggestions.  I was terribly green and made many mis-steps.  They were very patient and attentive.  To this day, I am not sure I have ever been as good a boss as they were to me.  Louise Zingaro, then Director of the Alumnae Association, provided invaluable introductions and encouragement along the way.  Employing Denise McDonald’s Regional Campaign model, $13 million was raised from regional campaigns in New York, NY; Washington, DC; Atlanta, GA; Charlotte, NC; San Francisco, CA; Boston, MA; Philadelphia, PA; Richmond, VA; and Lynchburg, VA.  To this day, I wish we had not started in Lynchburg because it was not my best work and these were Denise’s neighbors….  Many scholarships, endowed professorships, program support and building gifts were made during this time.  I remember so many of those people.

I lived in the “Music Box” apartments.  Working at the College was so different from being a student.  In some ways better, in some ways worse.  The best part was getting to know the faculty and staff as people.  The worst was not being on campus very much (I traveled extensively) and “giving up my rights as an alumna”.  I learned after attending my first SGA meeting as an employee and speaking out, that “voice” I had so boldly learned at Sweet Briar as a student, wasn’t able to speak freely as an employee.  It is one of the reasons I understand the staff member’s silence now as the College seeks to close.

 I learned after attending my first SGA meeting as an employee and speaking out, that “voice” I had so boldly learned at Sweet Briar as a student, wasn’t able to speak freely as an employee.  It is one of the reasons I understand the staff member’s silence now as the College seeks to close.

25th Reunion party at the boathouse.
25th Reunion party at the boathouse.

Reunions

I have attended every reunion at Sweet Briar both on and off campus.  I include off-campus because some reunions have been at weddings, sad occasions and getting together informally.  The friendships and bonds from Sweet Briar are like invisible threads from person to person creating a strong fabric of ties across the country and continents.

What I most love about Reunions is oneness.  Even from my class’s fifth reunion, the friendship groups that naturally clustered together by dorm or major or sport smoothly flowed into one group.  By our tenth reunion, I couldn’t even remember who was friends with who — we were all one group.  Over those years, I have served in various capacities as class president, class secretary and class agent (fundraiser).  The need to serve Sweet Briar has never stopped.

Time together at parties and presentations is wonderful, but I think what many people enjoy is exploring campus.  Long strolls to the boat house or around the dairy route allow a taking in of campus as a whole.  I like to explore the buildings where I took classes and the library where I studied.  This is when Sweet Briar becomes mine again.

A visit to monument hill where Daisy is buried next to her parents is an important stop for me.   Sweet Briar was born of a tragedy – the death of a daughter – and it has become a living memorial.  I think Daisy’s mother, Indiana Fletcher Williams, would be very pleased to know how Daisy is honored.  Every year the students process to her monument and lay daisies in memory.  Today as I write, the President and Board of Sweet Briar are taking steps to close.  Indiana’s will is being violated.  The “perpetual memorial” to Daisy – which exists through the students studying at Sweet Briar – is threatened.

THIS is why I must save Sweet Briar.  THIS is why I care so much.  I cannot imagine a life without her….

A stone laying atop Indiana Fletcher Williams grave, "Believe" sits next to Daisy's resting place.
A stone laying atop Indiana Fletcher Williams grave, “Believe” sits next to Daisy’s resting place.

 

My husband, Lyn, and me at my 25th Reunion.  He is fighting to save Sweet Briar too!
My husband, Lyn, and me at my 25th Reunion. He is fighting to save Sweet Briar too!

 

Stacey Sickels Locke is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

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How NOT to speak about higher education — or women — or diversity — in 2015….

James Jones
James Jones — the Commonwealth of Virginia requests his removal in its injunction.

“Argue for your limitations, and surely they’re yours.” — Richard Bach

The announced closure of Sweet Briar College provides much fodder for every stage of grief.  The current President and leadership’s statements continue to horrify many alumnae and the public at large.  Each time the President takes the microphone or speaks to press, the quotes get worse.  The President of the Board, the President, the President’s wife and other leaders: How is it possible in 2015 that people could speak this way?

Here is how NOT to speak about higher education — or women — or diversity — in 2015

 “Sweet Briar’s rich-girl days were long gone.”
— Sweet Briar President and Chair of the Board, Paul Rice

Rich girl days?  Really?  While every School and College may have a percentage of students whose parents are able to pay for tuition without any loans or grants being taken and provide for many of the extras, Sweet Briar has never been a majority “rich girl school”.  Even back to the founding days of the College there were scholarships for financial need and students were able to work in all types of jobs to provide for their education and expenses.

Jones told The New York Times that for students who entered Sweet Briar in fall 2014, 37% are first-generation college students, 32% are minorities, and 43% received Pell grants — federal financial aid grants for low-income undergraduates.

To use this statement as a reason for the College closing is one of the most egregious Jones has made and has generated widespread ire.  To have this statement made as a negative is extremely unfortunate. Some have picked up on this statement and repeated it in front of current students and their families both on campus and around the country — as if this is a negative.  Colleges and Universities across the country are THANKFULLY becoming more diverse in many ways — racially, socio-economically.  Mr. Jones’ wife describes it this way in a public Class of 1969 webpage:

Then you thought about the cost of four years of college today. That cost is far beyond what an average American middle class family can afford without great sacrifice and careful financial planning. But, Sweet Briar had a world-class riding program, so surely there were girls from super wealthy families attending, weren’t there?

Evidently not, Mrs. Jones.  The majority of families in higher education today are described by the statistics your husband quoted and the average middle-class family.  Sweet Briar should embrace these students and their families.  A school of “girls from super wealthy families” is never a goal for even families who are blessed with extraordinary wealth.   Diversity is a blessing to all.

Mr. Jones’ comments not only appeared in print, but on a call with thousands of alumnae he was bold to say:

“I guarantee you that the students of today and the students applying are not of the same caliber as your generations.”

This phrase has been repeated by some in support of closure and is extremely disrespectful for current students and their families.

Frankly, students who are bringing in Pell Grant income may be, in fact, contributing significantly to the bottom line. I raised a question to the former President when I visited for my 25th Reunion and she said, “It is the traditionally full-pay families who are sometimes paying the least – because they know they can negotiate. ”

Every school has a range of socio-economic diversity.  To blame the closing of the school on a change in the percentages is irresponsible and offensive.

Sweet Briar is no longer the “horsy school on the hill,” current professor.

Horsy school on the hill?  Good grief.  One of Sweet Briar’s STRENGTHS which continues (based on this year’s award winning season) is its equestrian program. While a small percentage of Sweet Briar students ride horses and an even smaller percentage of students bring horses with them, to describe the College this way indicates a complete lack of awareness of the award-winning program as well as the successful athletes, including Lendon Gray, a three-time Olympian.  Our award-winning sports teams and incredible coaches are one of the hallmarks of Sweet Briar — and frankly any College or University.  Riding is something that gives us a niche and a good reputation.

Sweet Briar determined in 2011 that the alumnae’s changing demographics made it impossible to effectively conduct a large-scale fundraiser, Sweet Briar’s vice president for finance Scott Shank told The News & Advance.

2011 is a full enrollment cycle away from 2015 where we are now.  It is very unfortunate that the College did not conduct a professional feasibility study of its alumnae testing REAL issues and themes.  The last feasibility study of 200 alumnae was conducted by staff members (I have spoken to many alumnae who gave when I worked at the College and who participated in this study – they cited no confidentiality as staff were the interviewers; no theme of any concerns; no details about giving levels). This was a huge missed opportunity.  Alumnae assert that the College did not come to them and the fundraising ability they have shown — in incredibly creative ways — is inspiring (to this fundraiser in particular).

To say that the “changing demographics” made it impossible to conduct a large-scale fundraiser is completely offensive.  This was my reaction initially and then I heard from the editor of the leading industry publication in my field (when she read about Jones’ and Shank’s statements)

I didn’t attend Sweet Briar, but I have to say that as a person of color (and donor to causes I care about) this bit attributed to the institution raised my ire.

By the way — news flash — one of the most generous groups of alumni are those who received scholarships and support themselves because they feel a duty to give back.  Some of the world’s leading philanthropists did not come from wealth — someone helped them.  Chances are, your “changing demographics” may actually be the source of great support in the future.

In response to why the College couldn’t adapt or change….

Here’s more from Jones’ conversation with IHE earlier this month on Sweet Briar becoming co-ed:

Jones said that, at Sweet Briar, going coeducational did not seem like a simple solution. He said that such a move would have required lots of money for scholarships and facilities, and he wasn’t subtle about the purpose of the spending. “We would need scholarships to basically buy males,” he said.

Buying males?  Are you kidding me?  I have two sons, one college age.  He is not “for sale”.  He chose to attend a small, liberal arts College in the Midwest.  As a parent, I would have loved to have him consider Sweet Briar (albeit with a different male-counterpart name).  I imagine there would have been many more interested and they would not have to be “bought”.  Even if it is true that merit or scholarship support might be necessary in a greater percentage initially, to frame it as “buying males” is just disgusting.

The Chair of the Board, Paul Rice stated (when dismissing the possibility of going co-ed)….

Rice elaborated on the projected increased spending in The New York Times.

“You don’t just take ‘ladies’ off of every other bathroom door and put ‘men’ up,” Rice said. “You have to add programs and facilities, athletics. All of these things take significant investment and time.”

This is the Chair of our Board folks.  Obviously, a co-ed environment requires some adaptations.  There are men and women’s bathrooms in every facility on campus as it is.  How do you think we get through Reunions?  We have men and women in dorms, attending events and classes all across campus. It would not be terribly difficult to allocate a dorm for male students.   We have sons of current faculty and staff who attend Sweet Briar. With the new athletic facility, a key asset was available.  Furthermore, the College has capacity for far more students than it current enrolls, so even a small percentage of men initially could no doubt have been accommodated.  To hear this decision dismissed so callously down to labels on bathrooms doors is embarrassing and does not instill confidence in the decision making or deliberations  of the Board.

"Leave it to a man to destroy what a woman made" - banner hanging on the bell tower.
“Leave it to a man to destroy what a woman made” – banner hanging on the bell tower.

In the initial announcement about the closure of the College, the President seems to indicate that people just don’t chose a College like Sweet Briar anymore.  He wrote,

“While the College has long been part of my life, as my wife is a 1969 graduate…..The board, some key alumnae and I have worked diligently to find a solution to the challenges Sweet Briar faces. This work led us to the unfortunate conclusion that there are two key realities that we could not change: the declining number of students choosing to attend small, rural, private liberal arts colleges and even fewer young women willing to consider a single-sex education, and the increase in the tuition discount rate that we have to extend to enroll each new class is financially unsustainable.”

This statement is telling because it seems to be that there was just a small group of “key” alumni who convinced themselves there was no hope.  He then refers to them as “us”.  Clearly, he left out the voices of thousands of alumni and his own faculty and staff who had very brilliant ideas (and who debunk with facts and figures the statements of why they needed to close).

It seems President Jones, the Board Chair and others have forgotten that there are HUNDREDS of current students at Sweet Briar College who HAVE chosen to attend a small, rural, private liberal arts college.  There are also HUNDREDS of small, rural, private liberal arts colleges who are open and have smaller endowments than Sweet Briar.

Mrs. Jones, the President’s wife, uses some of the same language in the Class of 1969 webpage where she issues a public comment.

Why were the grounds not pristine as they had always been? You noticed the peeling paint, the shabby parlors, the rotting balcony about to fall off of Alumnae House, and that uneasiness grew…. Maybe you just wanted to let this new president know that it was not “the Sweet Briar way” to have the campus looking like this.

Shabby parlors?  “The Sweet Briar Way?” Actually, due to surging enrollment, many of the parlors had turned into dorms and office spaces.  That isn’t such a bad thing.  And, yes, deferred maintenance was a problem, but no one had thought to appeal to the alumna who have since offered to organize a Habitat-for-Humanity like work project along with funding to catch up.  Some people find older homes charming….

The President’s wife went on to say,

Even though you knew the demographics information: students in 2014 were turning away from single sex colleges, they were flocking to schools in urban and suburban areas that offered more vocational type curricula, they were more concerned about spending their education dollars to be trained for a job than looking for a broad liberal arts education.

Mrs. Jones, you forgot to add the important lack of a Starbucks that your husband was quoted as saying on the call with alumnae about the closure.  Seriously though, there ARE people who choose small Colleges and liberal arts education still thrives.

The announcement of Sweet Briar’s closure ends with a quote by another 1969 alumna, Elizabeth H.S. Wyatt ’69:

“If we make the decision to close now, we will have a better opportunity to conclude academic operations in an orderly, compassionate and ethical way that pays homage to those who are here today and to those who came before us.”

This sounds like someone with their hands folded in their lap, speaking to a child.  Perhaps it was expected that Sweet Briar alumnae would behave like “good girls” and just take this decision and go quietly onto other interests.  But, no, President Jones describes our reaction this way:

“emotional, overwrought, irrational”

Patronizing has never had a better example than this.  This is classic male behavior and language.  “Irrational” is such a convenient word for men, perpetuating their sense of superiority.  This is CLASSIC sexism used to describe essentially what is a different way of being.  One of the reasons we attend Sweet Briar is to learn such things (I was a Psychology major).  Men tend to think they are logical and not use feeling words; women aren’t afraid to express and use their emotion. Emotion is the antithesis of logic. When men perceive women as being too emotional (or a way you don’t want us to be), men say women are being irrational. Crazy. Wrong. Overwrought.  Minimizing somebody else’s feelings is trying to control them. If they no longer trust their own feelings and instincts, they come to rely on someone else to tell them how they’re supposed to feel.   I suspect this is how a percentage of our alumnae are feeling right now (I’ll refrain from using decade generalizations) because they have people around them telling them how to feel and pointing out those who resist in negative ways.  I hope they can free themselves of this path and find their voice.

The press release regarding the President and Board’s refusal to step down refined the term to describe the #SaveSweetBriar movement as:

“well intentioned”

The number of alumnae who turned out to welcome students back from their spring break — traveling far and wide — outnumbered the entire population of campus.  The funds raised in 10 days exceed the entire fundraising goal for the year.  The faculty unanimous voted in opposition to the Board and President.   Dismissing this energy and commitment shows how out of touch the President is with the stakeholders of the institution.

To CBS, Mr. Jones was asked by the interviewer, “Was there anything anyone could do?”  Mr. Jones replied,

“No, there was nothing anyONE could do.”

Mr. Jones doesn’t think there was or is anything anyone could do because he is surrounded by such a small group of pessimistic people.  In fact, once alumnae, faculty and parents learned of the President and Board’s decision, THOUSANDS have rallied and raised MILLIONS.  Clearly he does not see the future and sees nothing that could be done.  The logical thing for him to do is step down and allow those who see a future and have more creative ideas to lead.

These are just a few examples of how NOT to talk about women, diversity and education in 2015.  Certainly not as leaders of an institution with current students, parents, faculty, staff and thousands of alumnae hanging on your every word.

This alumna is embarrassed by your comments and have found myself apologizing to people well beyond the walls of Sweet Briar — including leaders in higher education and the national media.

Who speaks for me?  Saving Sweet Briar!

Stacey Sickels Locke is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
James Jones
James Jones

Here is some suggested reading on this topic (and to avoid further embarrassment):

Business Insider:  Dan Gottleib’s Analysis on the College Closing

10 Words Every Girl Should Know

How Not to Sound Like a Sexist Jerk

How to Stop Sexist Remarks…One Conversation at a Time

Example of a Male Senator Using a Phrase Offensive to Female Senator

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