A New and Different Day for Sweet Briar Activists

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June 22, 2015; Richmond Times-Dispatch

In the settlement agreement reached in mediation and approved by the Bedford circuit court yesterday, we noted a very small but potentially powerful requirement imposed on those on both sides of the dispute: They must not disparage each other. This kind of requirement is very common, but it can be a big cultural shift for those whose campaigning has included a whole load of publicly expressed anger aimed at opponents—in this case, the board and the soon-to-be-departing president.

Activists may wonder why new Sweet Briar board members will try not to engage in certain kinds of conversations. They may feel this lack of expressed anger reflects a shift in their commitments. But that is why I am writing this—to explain what some may experience in making the shift to being in charge of a massive undertaking.

The non-disparagement measure will require that activists let go of that (in my opinion, justifiable) anger for the time being and concentrate on helping to make their collective way forward. The challenges of finding the right strategy for the college and implementing it will be enormous, and it will require both patience and the collective intelligence and energy that has thus far been spent on wresting the institution from the threshold of its own forced demise.

Just a thought born of a similar experience.—Ruth McCambridge

  • DCMarketeer

    That is going to be a real challenge for the Saving Sweet Briar camp. Their overwhelming negativity toward anyone who disagrees with them — be that the outgoing board or any concerned citizen who comments on articles from the Washington Post — has been truly disheartening to see.

    • Judy Brown Fletcher

      Dear DCMarketeer,

      Look at the composition of the new Board. There is an increase in diversity of experience and talents. There are far fewer alumnae on the incoming Board. One of the interesting dynamics of the previous Board was the preponderance of members of the Class of ’69, The past Interim President is the husband of another member of the Class of ’69. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that class; it is just that such a concentration demonstrates a lack of diversity and in my experience on various nonprofit Boards this causes an inability to think and act creatively.

      The disparagement rule applies to those listed on both sides of the suit/ settlement. It applies to specific people, and not a generalized group of individuals. It is important to note that Saving Sweet Briar was not listed in the documents as being party to the lawsuit. Take a look at the documents filed in Bedford County. I am sure that they still reside online.

      I think the challenge on the issue of disparagement will rest mostly with the outgoing Board and Administration. They had a passionate desire to close the college and they failed in that attempt. I hope and pray that in time they will appreciate the newly energized Sweet Briar as it flourishes in the decades to come.

  • Elizabeth Dietrich

    while I agree that many who have been operating on adrenalin and anger for the past several months, now need to find away to let go and move into a more positive role, I think the agreement only refers to those represented by the various attorneys. Keep in mind that Saving Sweet Briar has a Board of Directors but no members. The folks that have been busy on twitter and facebook, etc. are representing their own views although it is not always obvious. I think if the new administration is more open, and trust is restored, people will be able to get beyond their anger.

  • Carol Brewer Evans

    It will be a challenge for SOME in the Sweet Briar camp, but I think not for long. There certainly have been a vocal few who have engaged in some pretty ugly “commentary.” But I think I see already on the SBC FB posts a seachange to focusing on the challenges before us–which are considerable. And Phillip Stone is already very effectively changing the conversation to a positive, future-oriented one. I think he is exactly the person who can successfully channel our anger into school-building action. (The non-disparagement clause doesn’t hurt either!)

    Thank you Ruth McCambridge for an insightful and thoughtful article.

    • ruth

      Thanks Carol and I want to be very clear that I have no problem whatsoever with the anger that was exhibited by the activists. I think that it was justified and the farther and necessary end of a powerful spectrum of activity. I was trying to help on the unity front, not provide a venue for painting any activist as problematic. I know that the sheer volume and passion of social media activity helped keep NPQ focused on the situation. Some leads played out – some not so much but it is the cumulative power of all of that activity that worked in the end. Congrats to ALL

      • Carol Brewer Evans

        My post was more in response to DCMarketeer–and probably should have been placed as such–to point out that the negative posters on WaPo articles were not necessarily representative of all alums. But you have given me a better appreciation that vitriol is to be expected under such extreme circumstances and not something for which to apologize. I noted the word “justifiable” and appreciated it. Your article is one I will bookmark to return to because I think we are going to need reminders of this in the days ahead.