Sweet Briar’s miraculous turnaround at heart of two-part series on WMRA

WMRA, a public radio station in Harrisonburg, recently sent freelance reporter Emily Richardson-Lorente to Sweet Briar, where she spent a day talking to students, faculty and administrators. She also went along on an admissions tour with Hannah Beall ’17.

 Junior Ashton Reid (left) and assistant professor Kaelyn Leake ’09 have a laugh while working on an optical guitar.
Junior Ashton Reid (left) and assistant professor Kaelyn Leake ’09 have a laugh while working on an optical guitar. Photo by Emily Richardson-Lorente

Richardson-Lorente’s reporting resulted in a two-part series that aired on WMRA Tuesday and Wednesday, March 29-30. Part One, “Sweet Briar College, Back from the Brink One Year Later,” focuses on the events of last year and where the College is today.

Part Two, “Can an All-Women’s Education Survive?” explores the relevance of women’s colleges today and features Sweet Briar’s engineering program.

Engineering major Maddy Lee ’17 was one of the students Richardson-Lorente spoke to for the story.

“Coming to a women’s college makes a really bold stance that you are all for women in leadership positions,” said Lee, who chose Sweet Briar over state schools where she also was accepted.

“I think they’re great and I think they’ll be around for a little longer,” she told Richardson-Lorente, laughing.

Richardson-Lorente notes that Sweet Briar’s brush with closure may have been proof to some that women’s colleges are on their way out.

“But look at it this way,” she concludes in her report, “a year ago, Sweet Briar’s leadership had given up on the school. And then students — both past and present — banded together, ignored the ‘experts’ and found a way to surmount ‘insurmountable financial challenges.’

“That took strength, generosity and grit. If nothing else, that may speak to the continuing value of an all-women’s college education.”

The stories first aired during NPR’s “Morning Edition,” and repeat during additional local news segments, including “All Things Considered.” Listeners can catch them again on WMRA’s Sunday wrap-up show, “Second Look,” at 3 p.m. or online at wmra.org.