Defining leadership: five years after the Saving Sweet Briar effort

Posted on March 03, 2020 by Dana Poleski


Five years ago, on March 3, 2015, the College’s administration and board at the time attempted to close the school based on their belief that it could not overcome challenges and address the trends in liberal arts colleges. They cited financial difficulties and made this decision despite having an endowment of $69 million, an engaged alumnae base and a loyal student body.

However, mere minutes after the announcement was made, Sweet Briar alumnae leapt into action to save the College and halt the efforts to close. This was the powerful beginning of the Saving Sweet Briar effort that not only immediately united the College’s local and national community of supporters, but became a case study in achieving results through leadership, courage, confidence and action.

The nation and higher education industry watched as Sweet Briar women acted swiftly to build a strong legal case for keeping the College open, secured an impressive amount of donations and pledges of support and mobilized a national network of supporters who rose to the challenge. They were determined to stop the closure.

Sweet Briar women believe there is nothing that they cannot do, and these strong leaders proved that through their determination and grit. For that is what Sweet Briar always taught them to do, and they prevailed. The College never closed and transferred leadership to a new president and board on July 1, 2015.

The Saving Sweet Briar movement succeeded and gave the College a chance to reinvent itself and innovate in a way where others had not. President Phillip Stone stabilized the College over the following two years,  and in 2017, President Meredith Woo became the 13th President of Sweet Briar. She announced a new, comprehensive academic vision with an innovative core curriculum, tuition reset and business plan. With a purpose and direction firmly planted in the qualities of leadership, the core curriculum was restructured around this concept and the Leadership Core was formed.

Leadership and the liberal arts go hand-in-hand. Effective leaders benefit from this educational foundation that teaches them to be successful communicators, ethical decision-makers and empathetic problem-solvers. The Leadership Core provides a broad, multifaceted education while also showing how different disciplines interact, which is a direct reflection of how life works in professional, personal and community circles.

Born out of the challenge to save the College — led by a fearless group of women — the concept behind the Leadership Core curriculum teaches students to harness their natural leadership abilities and apply them in every facet of their lives.

Today, students continue to be inspired by the alumnae’s monumental accomplishment in 2015 and, every day, experience its impact first-hand. This milestone in the College’s life will forever encourage women to harness their power to lead, create change and make history in whichever way they desire.

Sweet Briar has always been the place where young women discover their passions, pursue their interests and grow their confidence. Being a women’s liberal arts college plays an important role in enabling them to do that from the very beginning. From the moment a student steps onto campus, she is supported by the entire community who rallies behind her and helps her reach her goals.

At Sweet Briar, women are not afraid to be themselves. They stand up for their beliefs and roll up their sleeves to get things done. They, along with the alumnae who came before them, are true leaders, and they will continue to make history.

Learn more about the College’s focus and what makes it stand out: Five things you should know about Sweet Briar