President's Blog

Archive for October 2009


Tania Salas Platt ’10 plays Dionysus in “The Bacchae.” Photo by Kylene Hayslett.

Tania Salas Platt ’10 plays Dionysus in “The Bacchae.” Photo by Kylene Hayslett.

This weekend Sweet Briar students, under the direction of Prof. Bill Kershner, performed The Bacchae.

Rick and I saw Thursday’s performance. On the way home, we agreed that the final scenes were powerful. Pity, terror, and great solemnity. . . and, yes, a lot of blood!

My impression was that Prof. Kershner and his students had committed themselves to exploring the “Greekness” of the play. Although the translation was contemporary, the staging and movement seemed to resist easy modernization. I admired the students’ ability to enter into dramatic performance conventions that are so different from our own.

In an interesting twist, the cast was single-gender, as it would have been in ancient performance — but of the other gender. Women played both female and male roles, which allowed the play to be cast entirely with Sweet Briar students.

I left the theater thinking about the Dionysian quality of drama, intoxicating and socially transformative and therefore dangerous.

Briar Bowl!

Attended my first Briar Bowl this week – – big fun.

George_Eliot_3If you’re not familiar with Briar Bowl, it’s sponsored by the Academic Resource Center. Faculty members and students form teams and answer (or attempt to answer) trivia questions posed by Dean Jonathan Green. Sample: What was the nom de plume of English writer Mary Ann Evans, pictured at left? Answer: George Eliot — the image is from the “George Eliot” entry on Wikipedia. The correct answerers were recognized over my sputtering objection that no one could possibly consider that a TRIVIAL point.

The Bistro was packed full, decorated in Halloween orange and black, with bowls of popcorn and candy corn to fuel the contenders. Team Library, led by Lisa Johnston, claims to have won, admittedly by only one point. . .

This Message Made My Day

Here’s a quote from a message I just received from a parent:

“I just wanted to pass along my heartfelt appreciation for your acceptance of Gabrielle Boggs into the Class of 2014.  Your letter arrived on Saturday and as a family we were thrilled!!  After many college visits and many prayers, we knew that Sweet Briar was the best fit for our daughter.  I am so glad you agree.

She spent the weekend highlighting the SBC catalog, planning the classes for her major and minor, searching the internet for local dance studios where she might teach, and emailing local pastors about their churches.  Eager?  That’s an understatement!  I think she’s already memorized the honor pledge.”

I can’t wait to meet Gabrielle and welcome her to Sweet Briar. How cool is it when a student finds and gets into her dream school?

Class Today

Today Prof. Tony Lilly invited me to class to listen to his students discuss the play we saw on Sunday. (And, OK, I couldn’t contain myself to simply listening and ended up contributing a point or two myself.)

Drama masksIt was an impressive discussion. Prof. Lilly invited the students to reflect on the choices the director and actors had made, and to compare the interpretation of the play as performed with other potential interpretations emerging from their reading of the text. To my mind, one focus of the conversation was the complex interaction of comedic disorder and the serious potential for violence or social disintegration.

Oddly, I found myself reflecting on the coincidence that I saw the Merry Wives of Windsor on Sunday with Sweet Briar students, and this weekend will be watching Sweet Briar students perform The Bacchae. Women at the center of social disarray — in both comic and tragic modes!

Important Message re Budget

Today faculty, staff, students, alumnae, and friends of Sweet Briar received a message from me about the College’s budget for this year. In case you missed it, you can find it here.

Many of you have recently read similar messages from the other colleges and universities to which you are connected. Our challenge at Sweet Briar is to remember that we are in a relatively strong position with great momentum. It is precisely in order to retain that strong position and momentum that we need to act decisively and carefully to address budgetary challenges when they arise.

I look forward to sharing the administration’s plan for addressing this year’s revenue gap with the community soon. The plan will protect the quality of the academic program and the student experience while preparing the ground for strategic investments when our enrollment and endowment resume their growth.

In the meantime, we celebrate the fact that we have opened new facilities (when many institutions could not) and welcomed new faculty members (when many institutions did not) and that our investments are already well on the way to recovering their value. The leaders who made prudent decisions over the last several years served the College well and ensured that Sweet Briar has not been hit by the economic downturn nearly as hard as many other colleges have been. Our current circumstances are certainly challenging, but we are well positioned and well prepared to meet the challenge.

Blackfriar’s Playhouse

Drama masksToday I went to see The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton with Professor Tony Lilly and 24 Sweet Briar students.  Even better, Prof. Lilly has invited me to join his class on Tuesday for a discussion of the performance.

Rick, who came along, said that the space itself essentially became a character in the play. I know what he meant: the theater is a replica of Shakespeare’s Blackfriar and the performances are staged much as they would have been in Shakespeare’s day. The stage is nearly bare, the audience and the stage are equally lit, viewers are seated on the stage itself, and so on.

The performance we saw today was great fun, boisterous and energetic. What interested me most, however, was the different social experience of seeing the play under unusual (to me) conditions. It’s very different from sitting in an assigned seat, isolated by darkness, gazing at a stage which is designed and lit to command and direct attention. Being in the audience felt like being part of a community encircling the narrative. . .

I’m very much looking forward to visiting class on Tuesday. I wish I could find time to re-read the text between now and then!

Ghost Tours!

ghostIf you’re going to be near campus next weekend, check out the Ghost Tours! Full information is available here. These campus tours are lots of fun and I encourage you to catch one if you can.

One of the first question student visitors to Sweet Briar House often ask me is whether Rick and I have had any Daisy encounters. My answer is always no, we haven’t, but I wouldn’t mind — I assume Daisy is a benevolent spirit who only means us well.

Sweet Briar is particularly rich in ghosts, but in my experience college campuses generally tend to cherish their ghosts and ghost stories. I’ve wondered why that is, and the best thought I have right now is that on college campuses the past is very palpable and highly valued. Our ghost stories are a way of assuring ourselves that the past is still with us, that our forebears are interested in our doings, that we remain connected with the energy that created us.

So Daisy and Miss Indie and the other ghosts at Sweet Briar are, so far as I’m concerned, welcome among us anytime.

Facebook “Interview”

I’m having great fun being interviewed by students on Facebook via the “What would President Parker say about. . . ” group. Thought you might enjoy seeing this (slightly attenuated) screen shot:

Facebook page

Art and Good Neighbors

On Saturday evening, Rick and I attended a lovely event at the VCCA — the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. As many of you know, VCCA is located just across the road from campus, in fact on property rented from Sweet Briar. Having one of the nation’s premiere artists’ retreats as a neighbor and friend is wonderful for the College.

The occasion was a celebration of 20 years of collaboration between VCCA and the Oberfälzer Künstlerhaus in Bavaria. For two decades, artists from Germany and the U.S. have visited each other’s countries through this relationship, making art and making “neighbors.”

On Friday there was an exhibit of works by artists who have participated over the years. Bavarian composer Jens Barnieck gave a marvelous concert of works for piano. The evening was topped off with a meal of beer (from a Lynchburg brewery), sausages, cabbage and sauerkraut, potato salad, and a dessert called “apple dappel.” Rick had seconds. . .

It was a rich and interesting evening, and a reminder of the power of the arts to communicate across languages and boundaries. And one more instance of the cultural richness here in Central Virginia.

Families Weekend Victory!

Vixen logoVixens field hockey today, on the newly-dedicated Thayer Field, 3 – 1 over Transylvania.  Go Sweet!