The All-Night Ride of Sybil Ludington

 

LISTEN up, ladies, and you shall hear

‘Bout the all-night ride of a girl’s sixteenth year,

On twenty-six, April, in Seventy-seven;

Now two years into that famous rebellion.

Then General Washington had given his leave,

For Ludington’s soldiers, this being spring’s eve,

To go home to their families, and lay down their arms,

And plant needed crops back home on their farms.

So home to New York’s Putnam County they went,

Colonel Ludington his four-hundred men sent,

And himself to his homestead in Patterson.

 

On his first night home with his daughters and sons,

In late April’s cruel icy downpour,

There came a pounding at Ludington’s door.

Early that night a drenched rider carried

News of trouble due south in Danbury:

“A group of two-thousand British roams

Burning the food stores and citizens’ homes.”

The news must have given them all a cold chill,

As Washington’s army lay in Peekskill,

And two-day’s march too far away,

To Ludington’s army’s one-half day,

But spread over forty-miles’ delay.

 

The rider declared he could go no farther,

But Ludington had to prepare for warfare.

With little time to stand and quibble,

He sent his eldest, his trusted Sybil.

She knew the neighbors: his trusted men,

The turncoats, the path, and its treacherous bends.

She’d ridden it–in daylight–again and again.

 

Sybil bundled in her warmest,

Knowing that she, for the war, must

Ride in the wind and the dark and the rain,

Through forty miles of deep muddy terrain,

Made worse by the ice and thaws of spring,

To protect the people and throw off the king.

She gathered a branch to use for protection

And to knock on doors without dismounting.

She saddled her young horse who held her affection,

Named for the shape on his head, a white mar,

And she made her way with her stick and her Star.

 

Off she rode making all haste,

With wind and rain hard in her face,

Quickly drenched through her clothes to the bone,

Fingers and ears in the wind cold blown.

A mile she rode through the dark, cold night,

Before she would see the first hint of light,

At this farmhouse, she slowed at the door,

To bang with her branch and warn them of war:

“The British are burning, the British are burning

Danbury homes and food stores.

Gather at Ludington’s. Now. Tonight,”

She repeated until she saw candlelight,

And heard a reply, before spurring

Star on and back to the road.

Three-hundred-ninety-nine left to go.

 

A few later she saw a foreboding glow,

As she passed the road that to Danbury goes,

Not the dawn of a peaceful morning,

But the rise of flames’ cruel burning,

Just before she set Star turning

Southwest to Carmel, then Mahopac Pond,

Fast as she could before new light dawned,

Getting off when she had to, to lead through the mud,

Or when he stumbled, to check Star for blood.

She rounded the pond aiming northwest towards Stormville,

And lo! A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!

Three men camping by fire in the woods this night.

Outlaws… horse thieves… or worse.

Gripping her stick, worried for the perverse.

She grew lonely and spectral and somber and still.

How to get past them and on up the hill?

 

She slid off and led Star silently ’round,

Shushing her horse as they moved in the dark,

Watching for rocks and mud, through wide arch.

Safely away, she remounted and bound

On to Stormville ‘fore turning southeast,

To the last few houses, by no means least,

Sybil, in one night, had conquered this beast.

By the time the sun rose, young Sybil had found,

She’d reached her home, on her father’s farm,

There the men were all gathered to take arms,

And her father hugged her before facing the Brits

In Danbury where, though outnumbered,

With element of surprise and unencumbered,

Ludington’s men forced those Brits back to their ships.

 

Without Sybil and her all-night ride,

The Brits might have marched on through Carmel,

And Peekskill and, there, been able

To surprise Washington’s men by riding that tide.

Perhaps that’s why Washington thanked her in person,

Knowing, without her, the war would have worsened.

 

The fate of a nation was riding that night,

On Sybil Ludington’s speed and her flight,

With her courage, her stick, and her Star,

On a longer trek than Revere, by far.

She circled part of Putnam County, New York,

A sixteen-year-old girl and her year-old horse,

To save Danbury, Carmel, and Washington’s men.

What might have happened without her there and then?

 

And what, in the end, was Sybil’s fate?

She married, had children; lived to seventy-eight.

But not before she stood guard for her father,

When the Brits meant to kill him; they shouldn’t have bothered.

She helped hide Enoch Crosby, American Spy,

But her Patterson gravestone ‘d be easy to pass by.

They misspelled her name: It’s S-*Y*-

B-I-L, Sybil Ludington of Patterson,

Who saved Danbury, Carmel, and Washington–

With her stick and her Star–from British canon.

 

You know the rest. In the books you will read,

Of Revere, Allen, Adams, and Greene;

But some of us will not forget

This heroine, who’s owed a debt,

For riding through the cold spring rain,

Through the dark and deep muddy terrain,

Dodging thieves in her flight,

Some forty miles and through the night,

Rode Sybil Ludington with little light,

And so through the night went her cry of alarm

To every Putnam village and farm,—

A cry of defiance and not of fear,

A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door

And a word that *should* echo forevermore

Borne on the night-wind of the Past,

Through all our history, to the last.

So if you’re in Carmel, remember what she’s done,

And have a New York picnic under the sun,

And under the statue of Sybil Ludington, riding far,

Immortalized there with her stick and her Star.

 

–by L.F. Sarrouf

 

 

Ménage à Trois

Arms crossed, Alba walked through dense foot traffic tightly sandwiched between two men who stood a head higher than her, one in a ball cap, the other wearing blue and red 3D glasses.

“Smile,” the ball cap said, as the crowd began to thin.

“Really?”

“Yeah, you’d be cute if you smiled.”

“The most important thing, of course.”

“I’m just saying–”

“That what I look like is the most important thing about me. I could be a Fulbright scholar, Nobel winner, the next Mother Theresa–totally irrelevant.”

She turned the corner down an empty narrow street, both men followed. Ball cap reached for her shoulder. She pulled away.

“Hey, baby, don’t be like that.”

“Like what, toots? Someone who’s having a bad day? Who just got fired? Whose mother died? No, I should really just smile whatever’s going on, just to humor dicks like you. You know, maybe I’m among the one-in-four rape survivors and you’re scaring the bejesus out of me by following me around.”

“I don’t think much of anything scares you, sweetie. In fact, I think you and I ought to go find a place.”

“I don’t think my twin would appreciate that.”

“You have a twin?”

She looked at the man in 3D glasses who put his arm around the man. “Be honest. Did you just imagine a ménage à trois with me? Because, I am so there. Ground rules: Clearly you’re into kink. Good. Rope, zip ties, or duct tape? Any preference? Do you like a little pain with your sex? Do we need a safe word? Hey, where you going? This was just getting good.”

“Thanks, Teddy,” Alba said and went on walking.

“For future reference, if you’d like to humor the dick that’s usually hanging around you, just break his arm next time–oh, crap.” Theodore said, staring up at street art that had just come into view. It was a massive piece taking up a third of one of the largest glass skyscrapers in New York with red-toned geometric shapes and few blue shadows.

“Maybe it’s not for us,” Alba said, fishing in her bag for her 3D glasses as Theodore closed one eye to look at it.

“Oh, yeah. It’s us,” he said.

Alba put her glasses on and closed her eye on the blue side. The red lens drowned out the red, turning the blue shadows more prominent, which made for wonky twisted numbers and a few letters not unlike a computer form bot test: hard to miss, once you’re looking. The first three numbers jumped out at her: 20-14-1.

“Oh, yeah. It’s for us.”

#

That’s it for now. Keep an eye on the blog for new episodes. Also, if you liked my artwork, more can be found on my Etsy shop.

Stranger People

The train stopped. Strange people got off. Stranger people got on. The train moved.

The train stopped. A woman talking to herself. A man with rats in a cage. A woman with a giant painting of herself. A man in a dress. A woman with a cutting board and onion, which she proceeded to cut as the train moved forward. A man in cardstock, blue and red 3D glasses. A woman dressed as a toy soldier. A man dressed as a penis. A man in a banana hammock. A woman with two rats not in a cage.

Alba sunk down pulled her hood over her eyes and focused on her phone. First the red dot was catching up to the blue dot, then the blue dot joined the red, then they traveled together.

They reached their destination and Alba followed an older woman off the train onto an otherwise empty station. A tall man exited from the other side of the train just before it departed. The tall man turned to Alba and shouted in their twin speech.

“Is this her?”

“This is her,” Alba answered and the woman looked up, not understanding but recognizing the language. Alba lifted her hood. “The end of the line came and went a long time ago, Rachel. Surrender or die.”

“Who says I can’t defeat you? My master killed your father.”

“And died doing it. Or maybe my father died killing your master? You can ask them yourself in a minute.”

Theodore stepped from six o’clock to seven to avoid crossfire as Rachel reached in her jacket.

“Wand ready, Alba?”

“They are.” Alba raised her two hands to meet Rachel’s one wand. Theodore did the same behind Rachel but he wouldn’t interfere unless she put civilians in danger.

Rachel let loose with an attack and Alba countered with one hand and blocked with the other. So it went for several minutes. Rachel was fast enough to keep up but with noticeable effort. She couldn’t keep up this pace and soon it would be over. Rachel knew it, too. Her eyes changed. She was thinking more than she could afford to, plotting something. She tried to teleport, phasing into steam and flying for the wall, but the barrier Theodore had set up earlier lining the walls and exits blocked her. She did make it a few feet, though, and took advantage by turning on Theodore. She sent one attack, but, instead of following it up with another, she then turned towards a tunnel. By the sound, another train was coming and as soon its nose made an appearance, Rachel attacked the tracks in front of it sending it up and towards Theodore.

“Got it,” Alba yelled and teleported herself on top of the train. She lay flat spreading her body across and teleported again taking the front of the train with her. The whole front of the thing phased to smoke and she focused on pulling it up and over and back on the tracks. They landed but they went in the tunnel and past the barrier before she could get off. She had to jump to the roof, rush chakra to her hands and feet to stick on, crawl back to the station and jump back to the landing behind Theodore.  Fortunately, they were both still gawking at the rest of the train as each section continued to enter the station, leap off the tracks, phase, loop, and land on the tracks like a kinetic sculpture she had left behind.

Rachel turned and attacked but Alba blocked and countered. This time Rachel was too tired to get there in time. The counter hit its mark and cut Rachel in half.

“You know everyone on that train is going to puke,” Theodore said.

Alba raised her hand to a transformer and lightening bolted out and fired it. The lights in the station flickered but stayed on.

“Electromagnetic disturbance. Those make people nauseous, right?”

“So I’ve heard.”

“It’s more logical than the truth. They’ll latch on to it,” she said and raised her hand to the security camera thinking to insert code to loop the minutes before they arrived thus erasing the altercation but Theodore stopped her.

“I handled that when we stepped off the train.”

#

Next:

3 – MÉNAGE À TROIS

Ch 1 Sending a Message

 

Sending a Message 2

A new short story series… maybe a book, we’ll see where this goes.

 

 

The guard knocked twice and pushed the door open a few inches, keys banging against his flashlight as he leaned in keeping his eyes on the tile floor.

“Shop’s closing, ladies.”

He started to leave, but a voice came from one of the stalls.

“Oh, sorry, almost done.”

The toilet flushed.

“That’s okay, ma’am. Five minutes.” He started to leave again, but she stumbled out the stall door and fell. He rushed to pull her up.

“You alright?” The whiskey smell was overpowering, mascara streaks unmistakable.

“Fine. I’m fine,” she said, trying to stand on her five-inch heels. She managed, with his help, and pulled her sagging jacket over her spaghetti straps. “I’m fine. It’s just… I think my husband is cheating.”

“Can I call you a cab, ma’am?”

She smiled. “That would be sweet.” She leaned on him tapping his shoulder with a long elaborately painted nail, flashing a large ring on each finger. “Is this a good job?”

“Let’s get you home,” he said, moving her towards the door. She reached for his crotch. He blocked just in time. “Sorry, ma’am, I’m married myself,” he lied.

“Too bad.”

On their way out the door, he reached for the light, and at the last minute she turned tossing his keyring across the floor. It hit as the door closed.

A blue glow clicked on in the farthest stall. The stall door opened and the tinted flashlight beam found the keys on the floor.

Sandy carefully stepped off the toilet seat balancing a messenger bag on each side plus a backpack. She picked up the keys, exited the bathroom, and made her way to the elevator. Her partner’s chattering told her the guard was moving in the opposite direction.

The keyhole next to the highest button was locked but the guard’s keyring gave her access and then opened the stairs to the roof where she dropped the backpack next to a cell tower. Sandy pulled one end of a rope out and fed it through her own rigging before securing it to the tower. She stepped on the ledge and fell backwards. Brisk air tickled the back of her neck.

Counting the floors as she jumped, Sandy repelled to the right level before opening one of the messenger bags and unfolding the top of its trash bag lining to the rows of aerosol cans wrapped in thin foam sheeting to keep them from clanging. The covers were off for convenience but the tops were painted in their appropriate shade, all rose tones but for two blue. She started with the blue.

A snap came from above, and the tautness in the rope gave. In a second, she focused her chakra energy to her skin, hugging the glass as the rope fell until her rigging stopped it. The blue paint can continued. Sandy skidded just a bit burning her cheek and hands, but her chakra kept her glued to the side of the building. She steadied her breathing slowly waiting to hear the can hit. Waiting. Shouldn’t she hear it? No, just like she couldn’t hear the traffic, too far.

“Well,” she said, voice straining, face pressed against the glass, “this is going to make things more difficult.” She slid down another inch.

To the class that shouldn’t have but did anyway:

IMG_3297I always found it mind-boggling that slavery was once, in part, justified by the idea that African Americans were not as intelligent as Caucasians… while simultaneously making it illegal to educate slaves.  What a self-fulfilling prophecy! What a load of crap! What an act of courage to defy that law! How brave of Frederick Douglass to secretly teach himself to read and write and later become the famed writer and orator who proved this wrong.

There was a time, too, when educating women beyond reading, writing and basic arithmetic was considered superfluous. We were thought of as “less than.” Our primary purpose involved menial tasks with no options; our highest achievement was marriage. This was when women’s colleges began. What an act of defiance!

Not that the original culture of those schools wasn’t just as susceptible to the internalized sexism of the day: one of my favorite speeches from my time at Sweet Briar was from an elderly alumna talking about her first trip to the college of her future. She spoke about the sashes the Junior Year Abroad students wore to class as seniors, dressing for dinner–which included white gloves–and the upperclasswomen’s ability to pick out the women from other area colleges waiting at the train station by their scandalous shoes: flats. (Can you imagine?)

As children, we do everything we can to please our parents. As teenagers, we couldn’t care less, or pretend so, as it becomes more important to please our friends. Our parents ask us if we would, in fact, jump off a bridge if our friends did. A critical question to be sure, but I think the friends-pleasing phase is an important apron-string-cutting exercise: a stepping stone of sorts. By the time you move out of your parents’ home, you know you’re different from your parents, but you can’t always put your finger on how much or in what ways. The college years are where you, if my creationist parents will forgive the term, evolve.

At a women’s college, these days anyway, one of the first stages is deciding there are better ways to spend your time than putting an hour into hair and makeup every day. That’s 365 hours a year you can put into learning Latin, doing yoga, or practicing bass guitar–depending on your roommate situation. I personally kept that 365 hours a year to myself until, out of career frustration and after reading about a survey that said people saw women who wore makeup as significantly more intelligent than those who didn’t, I caved. I do my hair and wear makeup now.

I understand it was the class of 1969 that first challenged the dress code. They started Sweet Briar on the road to cultural change and helped us get our 365 hours back.  Every class year has made their mark on the culture that is this college. My big sisters, the ’93s, seemed like a bunch of “Type A” ambitious, stick-to-business, go-getters from day one.  The ‘93s include Tracy Stuart and Marine Katherine Polevitzky. My ’94s are laid-back and known for being equal parts big brains and big fun. Our classes were deliberately kept to about 100 because they were renovating dorm buildings. In our day, our tap-club hats really just had the club logo and senior-robe Fridays were decorated with only buttons and pins that could be removed for more formal occasions. (I don’t know why we didn’t think to have two robes: one decorated robe and one for formal occasions.)

What a shock when my first-year presented my robe with a gold glitter-glue mane and flashy pipe-cleaner whiskers–a reference to my nickname, “Lion.” (Today, I deeply regret the look that was likely on my non-poker-face. I didn’t understand at the time that this was the ‘97s way to make their mark on our culture.) It’s like those ’98s when they started sitting up nights writing for Step Singing and belting the “Holla, Holla” song with gusto never before heard. Seeing it on YouTube sung in the hallway outside of court was a major adjustment for me. Over the last year, though, it has had me thinking: Why shouldn’t a school known for building confidence, that doesn’t have an official cheerleading squad to follow the boys around cheering at their sporting events in short skirts and pompoms, counter that by empowering the entire student body to cheer for their fellow women and their accomplishments–athletic, academic or personal?

Indeed, every class year leaves their mark on this school and this school leaves their mark on them. What will be the class of ’16’s legacy to Sweet Briar and hers to them? What steely determination could be seen in these women just by the fact that they sat there at that graduation? What knowledge has this last year given them that they know anything is achievable, it is literally a matter of time, i.e., hours put in. Hours that are driven by faith and determination, cut shorter by investment in research and working smart and savvy, but never cut off by the lack of tenacity. That’s just choosing to fail.

The “Sweet ’16s’ ” impact has already been felt out in the world. Hadn’t you heard? According to the Daily Progress, interest in women’s colleges was down across the country–last year–and then Sweet Briar happened. Then everything changed.

As of just a year ago, sexism was supposed to have been solved, at least in the minds of many. We didn’t need feminism anymore. It was, after all, technically illegal to discriminate, at least overtly. If our average pay is less, it must be because we chose not to negotiate or put family first (and if we didn’t, we were selfish or somehow not feminine). We’re just not ambitious, (unless we are, then we’re too ambitious). We chose part-time jobs filled with menial tasks for the flexibility or low-paying careers that focused on helping people like teaching or social work rather than competitive aggressive male dominated careers like investment banking. We chose to be followers at work instead of leaders (unless we didn’t, when we chose to be too blunt and bossy… for a woman). We chose to be superfluous, focused on make-up and marriage.

What a load of crap. What an act of defiance to say, “No, we’re not. You’re retroactively excusing the data with a bunch of biased judgement calls about what we want in life. You’re pushing us into these ‘feminine’ boxes and punishing us when we refuse to back into one of a few cages of what you think women are supposed to be.”

What an act of defiance to say, a tiny fraction of Congress and the Supreme Court is not enough for 50% of the population, when we’re supposed to be satisfied with housecleaning. What an act of defiance to keep pointing out that those businesses with more women at the top tend to do better. What an act of defiance to look at the rate of women’s college grads in these groups and say, “Hey, we better not let those go yet.”

What an act of defiance for the women’s soccer team to file suit and call attention to one of the most egregious cases. What I hope is one of the most egregious cases. What an act of defiance to talk about what you make with your coworkers, ignoring the HR advise that, “We don’t talk about these things, for obvious reasons.” FYI, that’s illegal–for obvious reasons: it’s illegal to pay according to gender but no one will get caught doing if no one talks about it. That said, I don’t recommend jumping hard-core into the equal-pay fray, at least beyond getting in the good habit of negotiating for a bit more than you’re offered, before you’ve you got your footing but until you get there, keep your eyes open and keep questioning gender-roll authority.

Example: If you think about it, there are two careers that safeguard an individuals’ future and ensure it grows through investment and nurturing to be a legacy to that individual in the world even after they’re gone: bankers and teachers. Why should they not be paid the same? Because we, men and women alike, devalue “women’s work” through cultural cues ingrained throughout life. What an act of defiance to say otherwise. What incredible courage Sweet Briar’s faculty have had to come back together, put together curriculum four months late and a few colleagues shy.

Right now, you need the approval of your co-workers, bosses, and interviewers and not just for emotional validation, but so you can keep paying your bills. As time goes on you’ll need that less and less, and that leaves more and more room for little acts of defiance. Know that there will be times when you need to fit in, or near to, one of those gender boxes to get along. They’ll also be times when you need to call it out and just say, “Hey, that’s a stereotype and I don’t have to back into that box.”

Ultimately, a culture, a college, and an individual are slowly evolved by one little act of defiance at a time. From Harriet Tubman to Rosa Parks and all who came after them, the world is changed one defiance at a time, and, if a bunch of little “defiances” get together, like the 82 of you, the world can change that much faster. Sweet Briar College’s class of 2016 committed a big defiant act when they returned in the fall, and how much more this year than any other you have grown? We have all, each class and individual, had our briars to bear but, having earned our roses, can smile through the tears and say, as my grandmother was fond of, ” ‘Twas a mere nothing.” I might amend that to, ” ‘Twas a sweet, breezy piece of cake.” 2016s, I recommend having yours and eating it, too.

Rosam quae meruit ferat.

IMG_3289

Single-Sex Education: Not Your Grandfather’s Segregation.

Susan-B_-AnthonyAs new leadership takes hold and the alumnae-led Saving Sweet Briar, Inc., completes the final $12 million settlement installment, Sweet Briar begins to rebuild. The 114-year-old women’s college earned a perfect 99 score from Princeton Review—twice—and was the only U.S. school to make all four of Princeton’s academic top-20 lists in 2010 and is still listed at No. 116 by U.S. News and World Report. Yet, within the news media’s coverage of the four-month battle to save it, many comments, and some of the articles, describe it as part finishing school, part convent, part angry lesbian commune, and part slumber party almost complete with slow-motion panty-clad pillow fights—a combination of conflicting stereotypes and male fantasy.  It’s clear many see it as a segregation relic. As a 1994 alumna of SBC, I can tell you why single-sex education isn’t a relic and why it should be fought for.

It’s because we need six female members of SCOTUS, 80% of Congress and 70% of CEOs and top management positions. That’s how many men we have in those positions now and this is simply accepted as normal.

There was a time when barring women from voting was considered normal until a group led by women like Susan B. Anthony fought for years, often against other women. What many suffragists had in common was that they grew up Quakers, a religious society which had leadership equality. Women spoke out, voted and held office. Once achieved, suffragists thought women would have 50% of congress with the next vote. It was a huge disappointment. The rest of the voters, both men and women, continued to see the imbalance as normal.

Although only 2% of female college grades went to women’s schools, 20% of women in Congress did and regularly 30% of women listed in top business positions, according to the Women’s College Coalition. Statistics like this show that, while women’s colleges won’t single-handedly solve the remaining gender gap, they are a big part of the puzzle.

The assumption is often that women’s colleges are part of the problem, that not having men around to compete with will leave them unable to cope when men are around. The research belies that assumption, and the reverse is rarely considered. The idea of a Hampden-Sydney grad not knowing how to function with women around is ludicrous.

(Singlesexschools.org provides research and statistics demonstrating the benefits to male students as well as female. It’s an equal crime that all-male colleges are down to three. Title IX was meant to be about devoting equal resources, not homogenization of choices.)

The Women’s College Coalition stats include the 1.5 times more likely a women’s college student is to major in the hard sciences than a women at a co-ed school. Many women enter college intending to major in hard sciences but change to the softer sciences before graduating. Why? In the past year, I’ve read an account from a science museum assistant who regularly sees parents steer their girls away from science projects and towards the arts and crafts, a high school honors math student whose teacher consistently takes twenty minutes of class time to answer questions from the boys but hers are often answered with a quick list of page numbers, and a college physics student forced to do projects alone because none of the all-male students will accept a woman in their groups.

None of these women is barred from these professions, rather, they are self-selecting after years of discouragement, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt. The discouragement is consistent and difficult to escape without the reprieve of a single-sex educational environment, and that’s part of why such an education results in the above statistics. Yes, it is segregation, but no, it’s not your grandfather’s.

There are two things that make this profoundly different from “separate but equal.” One is that “equal” was a bald-faced lie; otherwise the bus would be separated left and right, not front and back. Second, it is about educational focus. Historically black colleges render similar statistics, particularly with performance in graduate schools. I can’t speak to this from personal experience, but I suspect it’s a combination of undoing internalized racism, similar to what women’s colleges accomplish, and counteracting the lag in educational quality created by lower public school funding due to localized poverty. What you get with this type of segregation is a more focused education with your particular needs in mind. What did the other type of segregation get you? A more focused bus ride? No, it was a daily ego boost to those already in power and a slap to the egos of those who weren’t. The results of which are exactly what segregated education combats. Call it fighting fire with fire.

What women’s colleges really do is remove the imbalance until women no longer see it as normal and are no longer willing to put up with it. We fought hard to remove the overwhelming exclusivity of access to higher education to men that once existed, but that doesn’t mean we need completely homogenized educational choices. What we need is 50% of congress, SCOTUS, executive suites, research funding and equal pay. Those are the archaic monuments to the past that need to go and these statistics show that single-sex education is at least part of what’s going to get us there.

From Red Alert to Flamingo Pink

Photo blatantly stolen from Alix Ingber.
Photo blatantly stolen from Alix Ingber.

Today I grieve because today I can. Today I feel what I suspect most of us did on March 3rd. I do that. I push back what I really feel until some part of me decides it’s safe to feel it. I didn’t cry on March 3rd. I started a boxing class – a literal one – and once the first class was over, I started the figurative one. I blogged, I read, I posted and commented. I wrote op-eds and made memes. I’m a paralegal now, but I have 15 years of experience in grass-roots marketing on the cheap for non-profits and I put every bit of it to work.

Ellen Attar and company asked me help out with the marketing part of a large proposal, so I signed up. Then they made me a team leader. My insecurities welled up, but I fought through them (thanks for your help with that, my fellow ’94s!) because Sweet Briar needed me to. (Note to self: fight through those insecurities more often because it worked out okay.)  

We won. I felt elated but still no tears. Not until convocation. (Damned you, Marcia!) And flamingos. (You, too, Stacey!) My life has never had so much meaning as it had in the last few months. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel so… meaningful? useful? important? …again. Today, oddly, I grieve both the loss of Sweet Briar and the end of the battle to save her…. at least part of it.

The crisis part may be over, but there’s still a lot to do. (Thank you for reminding me of that, Amy Davis!) We have days to raise another million, and we’ll have to keep raising money to help see that small but brave class of 2019s through to the end. That was our promise to them, and we’re not about to start letting our students and faculty down now. We also have to recruit 200 to 250 students, not just next year, but every year.

Honestly, that convocation made me want to give my notice, pack my things and move down today, but I had to remind myself that I could contribute even more if I finish my MBA first. If I finished my second-degree black belt, I would be qualified to teach in my style and could try my hand at teaching karate, self-defense, and/or a martial arts-based workout class for locals as a fundraiser and students/faculty to add to campus life. That, and it would just be gratifying to finally finish and publish my book before I start some new, all-consuming life-path.

They have my proposal, and I’ve seen a few ideas from it get ignored but also a few have come to life. Some of my language was used on the signs around campus. (Thank you, Monica! That was gratifying. You know where to reach me if you need anything else.) Meanwhile, recruiting has my memes, I still have some op-eds to circulate and, let’s face it, I’m never going to stop writing.

This year, and the next five years, I will dedicate to finishing things. I will finish the book. I will find a way to finish my second-degree black belt. I will get back to work on my MBA. And some day, I will go back there and give it all back to Sweet Briar. I will keep giving to the place that has given so much to me so that she can keep giving to young women like me. I will finish saving Sweet Briar.

 

Yes, Virginia, #SaveSweetBriar will graduate you in 4 years

Enrollment
Chart by Dr. Dan Gottlieb

Here’s why:

  • We still have $84 million in endowment, plus the millions SSB has in donated cash on hand and the $21 million pledged over the next 5 years. With a $30-40 million annual operating budget, we have the next 2 years covered, even with $0 income and no change in expenses.
  • Per the Washington Post, our endowment already had SBC in the  top-10 VA schools for endowment/per student. (This was part of why we knew something was bogus about this closure in the first place.)
  • As Ethics Alarm put it: “the school only lost about 3 million dollars last year. It could keep going for quite a while even if nothing improved.”
  • Things are far from improved, to be sure, however, that $30-40 million is very bloated and can be trimmed down giving us more like 3-4 years, as a start.
  • Millions in cash and $21 million in pledges have been raised since just the March 3 announcement — 16 weeks — at that pace, in 52 weeks we can raise much, much more and many fundraising events have yet to happen. (The NYC Club’s is planned for late June. Boston Club’s is August 29. DC Club has one July 1 and another in Sept….)
  • Why do we seem to have all this money when the BOD said we didn’t? The former BOD’s “Fundraising Feasibility” study, purported to have identified 12 potential million-dollar donors in the entire alumnae base of over 12,000, has proven to be a “Donor Insight” study, showing 12 potential million-dollar donors in a random sampling of some 300. This makes the fundraising potential roughly 40 times what was anticipated or $480 million.
  • That’s just taking into account the top 12 donors.
  • See this handy blog on the difference between a donor insight study and a fundraising feasibility study: http://beingunlocked.com/2015/06/donor-insights-study-an-analysis-by-a-donor-professional-fundraiser/
  • It’s going to take time to build those funds up but it should make for a very solid endowment, even if we’re dipping into our $84 million heavily for the next few years. Remember that, as mentioned above, per the Washington Post, our endowment already had SBC in the top-10 VA schools for endowment/per student.
  • Attorneys with White and Case, a MAJOR international law firm with ties to SBC, offered to restructure our debt, pro bono. Jones wouldn’t take the call and White and Case ended up representing the faculty in their law suit, again, for free. They are still available, pro bono, to restructure our debt if need be.
  • Don’t just take my word for it. The Roanoke Times did an independent analysis and said: ‘“I’ve never seen a college in as strong a financial position as they were in close their doors like that,” money manager John Bonnell of USAA Investments, which holds some of Sweet Briar’s bonds, told Bloomberg News.’
  • Oh, and here’s the Bloomberg News article they cited.
  • Business Insider agreed: “[O]ver the past two fiscal years, the college’s assets actually grew — from $160.6 million to $163.9 million. Additionally, Sweet Briar’s liabilities dropped from $30.7 million to $29.5 million.”
  • Also, there’s this in the Washington Post, from a man who’s REALLY gone over the numbers, Dr. Dan Gottlieb, “Despite short-term problems, a businessperson would have been delighted by the opportunities available with Sweet Briar’s history, $164 million in assets, $30 million in liabilities, and $60 million per decade donated by alumnae.” (That $60 million is without holding a major capital campaign in 9 years.)
  • And this from Navarro: “Sweet Briar’s financial problems can be fixed — with the right leadership”
  • Plus, if Forbes thinks it can be turned around, surely it can be turned around: http://www.forbes.com/sites/pascalemmanuelgobry/2015/03/05/a-turnaround-plan-for-sweet-briar-college-the-liberal-arts-college-that-is-shutting-down/

But do we have students? Actually, we’re being bombarded right now by students asking questions. We’re not going to have enough, but we were expecting and planning for a lean rebuilding year. As for the long-term enrollment “downturn,” not so…

  • Dr. Gottlieb also had a blog post on the so-called enrollment problem, which has a chart or two (one of which I blatantly stole above), making it clear that the average enrollment was actually on the rise from the 90s. (See the dotted lines.)
  • In 2008, SBC had the largest enrollment in its history. SBC’s housing capacity being 625, they were actually over that and had extra students crammed into dorm rooms with two in singles and three in doubles, etc. (See the blue line, total enrollment.)
  • After that, they bumped up tuition and enrollment growth started to slow, so they clearly crossed supply-demand threshold. Steven Nape, the enrollment dean at the time, still managed to recruit in the third largest freshmen class in SBC’s history for 2013. When he left, enrollment dropped off. (See the gray line, incoming freshmen class size.)
  • When Nape left, they chose not to replace him. They had Parker’s chief of staff, by all accounts a hard working and dedicated women, but a person with no prior training or experience in admissions, take on that position in addition to being chief of staff. They also let the software they were using to track applications laps so admissions staff were left using a paper tracking system and sometimes took two months to respond to inquiries. Not good. That also makes it clear that the problems can be fixed with, like the articles indicate above, the right leadership.
  • Nape testified under oath, at the April 14 hearing, that SBC could have freshmen classes of 200 if they got their act together.

So, why would students want to go to Sweet Briar? Choosing a college is a personal decision that’s ultimately about the right “fit,” almost like choosing a home, car or even a mate. Here are excellent reasons to try SBC on for size:

  • Princeton Review gave SBC a perfect score of 99 — twice.
  • US News still ranks SBC at No. 116, even after all this.
  • In 2010, Princeton Review’s “Best 361 Colleges”: ranked Sweet Briar:
  • No. 3 for “Most Accessible Professors,”
  • No. 4 for “Professors Get High Marks,”
  • No. 8 for “Best Classroom Experience,” and
  • No 11 for “Class Discussions Encouraged.”
  • The above made SBC the only U.S. college in the nation to appear on all four academic top-20 lists in 2010.
  • There’s also small class sizes,
  • Taught by professors, not teachers’ aids,
  • Those professors see themselves as your mentors and remember your name decades later,
  • They customize your education.
  • You can perform on stage as a first-year.
  • You get to do hands on research as a first-year.
  • You’re not treated like less of a scientist for having ovaries.
  • Although 2% of female graduates came from all-women’s colleges, 20% of women in congress did.
  • 30% of women on Furtune1000 list did.
  • Princeton Review also named SBC No. 8 for “Best Career Services,” in 2010.
  • Career Services puts you in touch with some of the 12,000 alumnae who helped raise $21 million in pledges, form a non-profit organization and push a hearing before the Supreme Court of Virginia in 16 weeks.

That is the alumnae network that will have your back when you graduate in four years from SBC. The article linked above from Ethics Alarm, also said, “[S]ome dynamic leadership, innovation and courage from the top could save them, as so many have been saved.” Sweet Briar has that leadership now in President Stone. As one commentator put it, “This could be the college’s finest hour.” To the naysayers, I have nothing but song lyrics: “Don’t believe me? Just watch.”

An amendment:

By way of resources for incoming students and families and those debating their options…

For general questions, post to the SSB website Contact Us page: https://savingsweetbriar.com/contact-us/

If you’re sure you want to return but need someone to reimburse you for your deposit to another school, apply to the Alumnae Angels Network: https://savingsweetbriar.com/alumnae-angels/

Either way, please let us know where you stand so we can plan: http://www.unsolicited.guru/sbc-student-data-call/

Know that faculty are working hard to make arrangements to make sure that where professors are leaving, their classes are getting covered. If you’re not sure where your department stands in that process, check in with one of your professors.

Saved
Photo from Lydia Fleck

Thank you, #SaveSweetBriar Professor(s)

Herb's painting
painting by Herb Rand

 

Thank you, Professor Dabney, for my first collegiate English class and for that first paper. I was a little terrified the day you gave them back. You first handed out a sheet of quotes from several of the class’s work. You said it was anonymous and no one had to own up to them. The fourth one on the list was the first sentence of my paper. You read the first one out and proceeded to pick it apart–the second, more so and the third, well, a girl started sniffling. You got to mine and asked who wrote it. That wasn’t entirely fair. I sheepishly raised my hand and you looked at me and said, “Great sentence.” You then read my entire paper aloud to the class and sung its praises. The only specific I remember is that it had the exact right number of direct quotes in it. You spent the next four years teaching me how to write better. I still have a lot to learn but to this day the only compliment that doesn’t roll off me like water off oil that can’t hear a compliment is that I write well. I smile and politely say, Thank you, but what I’m really thinking is, I know I write well. Professor Dabney told me so.

Thank you, Tamburr and Piepho, for making Shakespeare fascinating and the fun classes like Fiction and Film and History of the English Language. There’s a PPS show about that now. It’s good. Yours was better.

Thank you, Herb Rand, for being the quiet, soft-spoken guide that I needed. Thank you for showing me I could get over my fear of heights, I just needed a catwalk for a playground and a shop full of toys and a key to the booth that overlooks all and the freedom to call them my own. Thank you for showing me how to make a perfect cloud out of light. Thank you for telling me I didn’t give feedback and I didn’t have to be so soft-spoken myself. Thank you for the painting you gave me when you left. That way I knew I meant something to you, too.

Thank you, Crispin, for going to bat for me to get more financial aid when my parents wanted me to transfer. It was the first time I felt like maybe someone actually wanted me around. Thank you for having such a cool club sport. It was the first time I didn’t hang back and assume my teammates wanted me out of their way. That’s not really an option in fencing. You’re on your own out there. I remember the match where I was down four to zip. Her foil did a lot of dancing around on the way in. Then I realized, for all the dancing, she had hit me in the same upper left quadrant every time: quadrant four. So every time she lunged after that, I parried four and reposted… five times. You put me on varsity after that win. Thank you for being such a good sport about it when I encouraged my teammates to “relocate” your flamingoes to creative places at the beginning of each season. It was the first time I ever inspired or led a group of people.

I know I’ve never really done anything for any of you, but I need your help again now. I know if we win before August 25, there’s a good chance we can go straight though and open in fall. I know if it’s after it’s still okay, we can get accreditation back and could use the extra semester to plan. But I’d really like to get that win before June 30. I can’t pay you back but I can damned well pay it forward and there are so many wonderful people I’ve gotten to know that I can pay it forwards to: Dan Gottlieb, Eric Caldwell, Cheryl Warnock, Marcia Kaley…. I want June 30 to go back to being just another day for them. I know some have already found other arrangements but I want them to come back from their Junior Year(s) abroad to a new Sweet Briar, one that feels like it did in the old days but with more of that youthful enthusiasm that embraces change and knows it can rise to challenges before it knows how. I know that they, too, knew they had found home when they stepped on campus just like the students did but in a more profound and permanent way.

Do you remember Claudia Chang? I went to a party at her house the other night. I don’t think I had a class with her but I suspect she was something of a little sister to you then. I think you would be proud and impressed with the powerhouse she has become.

Do you remember how I used to look at the ground back then and how quiet I was and painfully shy? I’m still pretty shy but I don’t look at the ground anymore. I think you would be proud and impressed with me, too, and I want you know that you were a part of that.

 

Where #SaveSweetBriar Stands, Part 3: Legal Chess-Masters

Chess BoardThe faculty have the best case hands down. Their contract says you can’t fire tenured professors due to financial crisis unless it is “demonstrably bona fide“. In other words, you have to prove it. In other words, you can’t say, “We’re not releasing the minutes, reports and financials because we don’t have to.” Excuse me, your contract says you do. At the very least, transparency can be forced—chess piece windfall!

The players? Oh, a team of chess masters offered to do this pro bono for the faculty (seems how their offer to restructure the college’s debt pro bono was turned down). Good luck, Woody. You’re not busy or anything are you? What? This isn’t what you signed on for? You were just closing one little girls’ school? Actually, it’s a women’s college.

No injunction in this game, but the discovery deadline was rushed and specific, Friday, May 15, and the faculty aren’t about to give them any extension, not on THIS homework, so I’m confident it’s pretty much all in save for what demonstrably bona fide required more time to get. That date tells me this is super extradited. Good.

What documents will be released outside of court circles is up to Judge Updike. He can release most financials but withhold pages with salaries (including faculty) on them or he can hold everything.

The hearing date is June 3 so we’ll hear more details on this game soon and the day before Bowyer goes to the supreme court to play the estate half of her board which will help with the frustration of not hearing anything on that for  weeks.

A Public Health Advisory: Do NOT stare at Twitter during each and every hearing expecting a single win or loss that ends this. It’s like watching the pot telling yourself your life is over if the water doesn’t boil NOW… NOW… Okay, NOW… Yes, time is of the essence. The players and the courts all know that. Giving yourself an aneurism isn’t going to help them (unless you’ve willed everything to SSB and your self-written obit is all about your time at Sweet Briar; then, by all means). While THE win could happen at any time, focus more on getting A win out of each of these. Then it’s more of a pleasant surprise when it happens.

A Public Service Announcement: Know that after major court dates there tends to be a Twitter frenzy trying to figure out what the resulting ruling means followed by a series of hurriedly written news articles that don’t offer any incites. By morning the news will have it better sorted but by then we’ll all be physically and emotionally exhausted. The result is something I like to call twitter-court hangover. The same thing can happen after big events like graduation and, probably, reunion. It will be difficult to function and we’ll all be a little short tempered. Usually, we just snark for a day, get over ourselves and get back to work. Sometimes the snark gets pretty snarky. Recognize when you’ve reached burnout, step away from the computer and appreciate the living, breathing friends and family around you… or just get some sleep.

Mediation: Totally Different Game! After flitting around Game One amicus briefing that the game shouldn’t be on and he should be playing/not playing Bowyer’s seat, and after a barrage of letters, tweets and a protest outside his fundraiser, AG Herring decided he could coordinate a mediation. It’s a radically different game, kinder and gentler on the one hand, searching for a win-win, or at least a solution everyone can live with. On the other hand, Woody’s in there with Bowyer, Everett, SSB’s lawyers and White and Case; all the people he’s playing against. Sadly, we don’t get to Twitter-watch this one. Although, there are plenty of other things to watch at this chess-o-lympics. (Somebody get Woody some nodoz ’cause these guys go past 5.) I like to write Herring once in a while to remind him everyone’s watching and not to go easy on these guys or even THINK about releasing my admittedly measly donation for closing costs but, in truth, I like the idea of his good cop to Bowyer’s bad cop. Mediation gives us a very different game play and another avenue, thus increased odds, of winning!

If you’re looking for things to do to get involved, there’s a list coming in a later section but as long as I’m on the subject, writing and Tweeting Herring regularly is a good idea but choose your words carefully. As Teresa Tomlinson said:

“We need to understand the important role that the Honorable Attorney General plays in saving our great institution. The Attorney General wants to do the right thing, so let’s help him understand what that is. Please find all appropriate, respectful ways to thank him for his involvement thus far, and impress upon him the importance that Sweet Briar College be saved. Speak out, speak up: let him hear your gratitude for his efforts to this point, and, yet, our insistence that his office be used to continue (and increase) those efforts.”

So why am I so confident we’re going to win? Because Woody has to win all three games plus the mediation against all the players plus the fourth SSB suit in the wings. One of these games is against a chess master and in another Bowyer is playing a two-tiered game a-la 3D Star Trek chess and all of the opposing players are handing each other chess pieces and injunctions under the tables. We only have to win one. Am I confident he’s going to lose? Yes. Do I have any idea when? No. Is there anything that could go wrong? Yes…

A word about injunctions…