She was a Vixen when she went to school

October 17 2016

On March 3, 2015, within the space of a single hour, I was gut-punched by loss, twice. We had taken our dog, whom we'd had for over 14 years, to be put down. He was a wedding gift from my husband to me. He was our ""baby"" before we had babies, and when each of our children joined the family, he had no issues of jealousy or territory. He accepted them instantly and loved them, sleeping under their cribs, following me around the house while I walked them to sleep, deftly avoiding them as crawlers and nascent walkers, becoming an enthusiastic playmate and a reluctant dress-up companion as they grew. We moved him across an ocean with us and he took it in his happy stride. His health had been gradually declining, with heart and kidney problems, but at the end, he deteriorated very quickly. When the vet told us there was nothing more we could do but end his suffering, we felt shocked and desperate. And those final moments with him, watching as he let go, were absolutely heartbreaking, for all of us.

After our heart-rending goodbye, we walked home from the vet, raw and hollow. Once we got home, I opened my email to share the news with our friends and family, but instead I read a message that my grief-stricken brain could not understand. It said that Sweet Briar was closing.

The significance of Sweet Briar College is nearly impossible to capture on paper. It is a tiny, rural, liberal arts college in the gorgeous, rolling Blue Ridge foothills of central Virginia. It is arrestingly beautiful, stunningly peaceful, and uniquely nurturing. It is a salvation, a refuge, an inspiration, a motivation, and a home to those of us who are lucky enough to know it. I met my husband there (improbably, at a women's college), I made many of my best friends there, I found my voice there. So many of us who call ourselves ""Vixens"" know that the strength, determination, confidence, and honor with which we carry ourselves as women were distilled and refined during our years at Sweet Briar.

That evening, I closed my email without reading the entire message, because I simply could not process it. There had been no warning, no indication of trouble or difficulty. I was numb from loss already and could not begin to comprehend.

But, the next morning, I woke up not broken by loss or intimidated by the patronizing bluster of false finality, but as the fierce, determined, confident woman Sweet Briar had trained me to be. And so did many, many of my alumnae sisters around the world. And we began to fight, and to question, and to unravel the decision that had been made about our beloved alma mater. Lawsuits were filed and funds were raised. Questions were asked and deceptions were challenged. The ""reasons"" behind the decision were found to be largely baseless, and we moved forward with a conviction that we would not let Sweet Briar go quietly. We shouted from the proverbial rooftops of social media and rallied local and national newspapers to our cause. Slowly, inch by inch, we took back what was ours, and, with great effort and force of will, we won. Sweet Briar has been saved, and, reminded of what we so nearly lost, her alumnae are freshly impassioned and more deeply committed.

They thought we would not fight. They never expected us to win. But Sweet Briar taught us to do what others might call impossible. And so we did.

Emily Calle
Langenzersdorf, Austria
@EmilyQCalle on Twitter

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