October Community Update

Posted on November 06, 2020 by Meredith Woo

Dear Members of the Sweet Briar Community,

We have been holding virtual fora to discuss political diversity. The issue we face everywhere in the country is deeper than reflected in Rodney King’s “Can we all get along?” plea. Political divisiveness today makes it difficult to imagine why people hold the different political beliefs that they do. Organized by Professor Waugh, and led by faculty interlocutors like August Hardy, Melora Kordos, Jessica Salvatore, Josh Wheeler and Teresa Garrett, we held the first conversation this past Sunday on political diversity. I want to thank the faculty involved in this fruitful discussion, and we hope to hope another session soon.

Wednesday, November 4, was the virtual, and entirely magical, night of conversation and readings with Madeline Miller, author of the New York Times best-selling novel Circe, and Emily Wilson, the translator of The Odyssey. You will recall that in the latter, it is Circe who turns men into pigs. Both books were our Common Read selections for the 2019-2020 academic year. Thank you, Carrie Brown, for making this happen!

In one of his Holy Sonnets, John Donne speaks of “… a little world made cunningly/ Of elements and an angelic sprite.” I have often quoted this line in reference to our college. Our world is an intellectual and social community, nestled in a complex ecology of built and natural environments. As we prepare women to lead our society into a sustainable future, it is critical that we remain focused on our environs.

Last month, architects from Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker were on campus to assess, in stages, our preservation needs, and advise us on the preventive measures we must take before damages necessitate bigger interventions down the road. Over the holidays they will work with our buildings and grounds crew to remove trees and other vegetation that endanger our historic structures and proceed to repair gutters and downspouts. These are small but important steps to bring our college back to full health.


We instituted an “early decision” program that commits prospective students early on in the admissions cycle. To date we have over 60 students who have completed and submitted their applications. All indicators in the admissions process – inquiries, applications, admits, and deposits – are ahead of last year, mostly by double digit margins. We will work hard to make sure this positive pace continues through the entire admissions cycle.

In spite of the pandemic, students and families are visiting. Twenty-one students with their families attended the October Open House, and we have 30 registrants for the November 14th open house. Many thanks to all who help organize, and participate in, these events. New recruitment landing pages have been launched on our website for legacy students, school counselors, and applicants. New communications flow sequences have also been put in place for school counselors and parents.

Ruffalo Noel Levitz, our enrollment consultants, have crunched the data on our prospects using their ForeCast Plus model. It indicates we have an opportunity to recruit students interested in biology, pre-med, and business. We hope to address this demand.

Academics, Athletics, Student Life

Mirabile dictu, we have two more weeks before students finish and return home. We are focused on getting to finish line without significant issues. The students are now registering for classes, and the Dean’s office and the Office of Student Life are abuzz planning and communicating logistics for moving the students out, and in, for the spring.

There are three important job searches underway, advancing through various stages. They are important because they most directly impact students. One is for Director of Library Services, and we are particularly interested in candidates with instructional backgrounds in research and information literacy. The search is also advancing for a Residential Life Manager, as well as for the Dean for Student Life.

Jodi Canfield and the COVID-19 Taskforce members are reviewing and planning adjustments to COVID protocols for the spring semester.

Scheduling for athletics is still in a holding pattern for winter and spring, but we have sponsored a number of recreational activities for all students like volleyball, billiards, a tennis tournament. You might be interested to learn that we had organized a biathlon (a 400 meter swim followed by a two-mile run). Participants in the biathlon included a number of students, as well as Dean Garrett, Director Canfield, Professor Loftus, and Professor Gervasio. (Dean Garrett, who is a triathlon athlete, came in 6th after five students!)

We hosted Melanie Smith Taylor for a riding clinic in the last few days, supported by the Robin S. Cramer endowment fund. Go to http://melaniesmithtaylor.com/

Finance, Operations & Auxiliaries

Like everyone on the academic side of the house, the operational side – grounds, physical plant, campus safety, housekeeping, and IT – is focused on the money: safely reaching the November 20 break.

And not just for the students. We just planted over thirty acres of hay to feed our horses. This will significantly reduce external purchases – horses eat a lot! New honey products are in at the bookstore, and there is, I understand, a Facebook live event this Friday to promote them.

The truly hard work is that which is unseen and therefore underappreciated. The business office continues with the final stages of the audit, which is expected to be finished in two weeks. We are also recruiting for a student accounts manager as part of the shift in internal resources. The Business Office has also supported four board committee meetings in the last couple of weeks, as part of the normal cycle.

Alumnae Relations, Development & Communications

The necessity to protect our community from COVID-19 has led to costs that were not originally budgeted for, such as the new health clinic, the purchase of personal protective equipment, IT upgrades to facilitate online learning as needed, expanded services for cleaning our living and learning spaces, and more. These expenses, as well as lost revenue, means that the total financial cost of COVID-19 to Sweet Briar is over $3 million.

The goal for this year’s annual fund is $5 million. These unrestricted dollars will help address these, and other needs. We’ve already made impressive progress toward our goal, thanks to the generosity of our alumnae and friends, as well as to commitments of $1 million from the members of our Board of Directors, which drove up our unrestricted giving total to $3.3 million. We are planning a giving blitz for Giving Tuesday, which falls on December 1.

Much of our fundraising efforts in October were geared to finishing off the fundraising campaign for the agricultural enterprises and riding stables, hopefully by December 31. We are focused on planned giving, class and reunion challenges, and other ways to target alumnae giving. AR & D is also working with the faculty on organizing Sweet Briar Days to take place in December and January.

Thank you for all you do for the College, and please enjoy the weekend,

Meredith Woo