Thursday, March 5, 2015

at the death of a college...

Colleges, and especially 114-year-old colleges at that, aren't supposed to die.  We think of them as eternal institutions, living on well beyond ourselves and teaching future generations.
Caroline on SBC's campus in 2012

But just two days ago, and out of the blue, our community was stunned to hear the news that due to "insurmountable financial problems," Sweet Briar College (one of the four campuses in our college ministry!) will be closing its doors for good.

I can't even begin to describe the emotions... disbelief? Shock?  Certainly.  Followed by confusion, tears, heartbreak.  Questions.  What just happened?  Why?  What will this mean?  

Sweet Briar is a private, all-girls' college about 15 miles north of our town.  It's an amazing place with an amazing campus life.  Our Sweet Briar girls have always been a huge blessing to the ministry of RUF Lynchburg.  The pride they have in their tight-knit school is truly unparalleled.  (if you're familiar with the school spirit of the Texas Aggies, these girls would be comparable!)  The deep-rooted traditions and cheers and events combined with the fifth most beautiful, historic campus in the country have made Sweet Briar the gem that she is.

In our seven years in Virginia, the Lord has opened the doors WIDE to RUF to minister there.  We've had a great relationship to the campus and this year, 27 girls are involved in our ministry in one way or another.  (many drive almost 30 minutes to come to RUF large group on Thursdays!)  No other national campus ministry exists at Sweet Briar.

The chaplain's office has always been extremely welcoming to us, and our niece, Callie, moved here this summer as campus staff SPECIFICALLY to focus on women's ministry TO Sweet Briar girls.  (*tears*)  What's especially heart-breaking is that Callie launched her first official small group meeting there Monday night, just hours before the news broke that this campus would be no more.  Who knew that the rest of the week, Callie would be spending all her hours hugging and crying with these same girls.  The Lord certainly placed her in the right place at the right time, and for that, we're so grateful.

I'm sure there are lots of demographic reasons as to why Sweet Briar was suffering financially-- women are less likely to attend single-sex colleges these days, tuition rates were high, and so on.  
Sweet Briar gals!

What makes the news so shocking is that it appears the alumnae (who have amazing connections and resources themselves) were never asked to contribute to this "insurmountable" problem.

From a campus ministry's perspective, it's heart-breaking to watch your current students have their worlds and their future plans collapse in front of you.

It's a collective death, really.  

Their hearts are broken.   They will not only be saying goodbye to their beloved campus and professors, but also to each other.  This is a sisterhood that's dying.  Their futures are uncertain.  And suddenly they're forced into the world of applying for colleges, most of whom have past the application deadlines to attend.  

It may sound like an easy solution for our students to transfer to another college and continue their academic pursuits there, but the implications of a school's death make for lots of messy situations.  One of our girls is an international student, and her visa is tied up to Sweet Briar.  What will this mean for her future?

Other students are facing issues with getting transcripts and don't know where they'll end up.

Fifty five year old professors whose families live on campus (most all of Sweet Briar's faculty live on its beautiful acreage) are suddenly without a job and will have to face relocating.

The small town of Amherst, which is already poor, will take a huge hit economically with its loss.

RUF at Sweet Briar last Spring
The dedicated alumnae all over the world (who are rapidly joining forces to combat the board's decision to close) will only know Sweet Briar College as a memory.

The implications are so far reaching, and so devastating.  Typing it out in words seems so sterile.  I somehow want you to feel this with us, because walking through it alongside a hurting community is gut-wrenching.

We're praying for a miracle.

I think it's possible if enough people care enough to do something about it.  I love seeing the determination and the fight from the alumnae to save their beloved school and not lay down and die without trying.  I think I'm falling more in love with Sweet Briar as I watch her struggle to survive.  It's in these challenges where community flourishes, where people join together for something they all hold dear to them, and you know?   Sometimes, just sometimes, that Hail Mary pass at the end of the fourth quarter is caught.  It seems impossible right now, but only time will tell.

But we'd like to ask you to pray with us.

Pray for our girls in their heartache.
Pray for the faculty and staff.
Pray for the efforts to save the school.
Pray for the alumnae who feeling the tremors of this decision.
Pray for the board and President Jones as they are under scrutiny.

Pray for Callie and Marc as they minister on a dying campus.  It feels so surreal and terrible.

Pray for our RUF ministry, particularly for our Liberty students to care about and reach out to these hurting SBC girls.

Pray for direction and focus, and for donors to continue to support our RUF ministry here, even with one of our campuses shutting down.

And when you're done praying and still want to do more:

Join the "Save Sweet Briar" facebook page to keep up with current pledges from donors.

Show your support of Sweet Briar on social media by wearing pink and green and using the following hashtags: #savesweetbriar  #thinkisforgirls  #pinkandgreen  #sweetbriarstrong

So here's to Sweet Briar, holla holla holla!  There's nothing God cannot do!

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