On Being a Quaker-Founded Institution

This webpage came out of a conversation with the Guilford College Board of Trustees on October 28, 2023. The discussion questions at the end represent a collaboration between Nancy and David Haines, Ione Taylor, and C. Wess Daniels.

What does it mean to be a Quaker-founded institution?

Guilford College started out as New Garden Boarding School in 1837. A school founded and built by Quakers connected to New Garden Friends Meeting. It’s original goal was to provide a “guarded education” for Quaker children but by 1845 the student body was no longer predominantly Quaker. However, while the student body rapidly changed, and has continued to change, the staff and faculty of the school remained majority Quaker well into the 1960s. Presidents of the school remained Quaker until the 2000s when the college hired it’s first non-Quaker president. As the demographics of the college shifted cultural assumptions, practices, and shared values that are more assumed within a single faith-tradition could no longer be treated implicitly. In 2005, The Strategic Learning Plan, also known by the funny acronym, SLRP II, the college’s mission that we continue to use today was created, as were the current “Core Values.”

Guilford College Mission:

Someone can read the mission out loud:

Seven Core Values:

From SLRPII, 2005 (P. 15-18)

Preface to the Core Values from 2005:
The seven core values of Guilford College are based on, and consistent with, the five Quaker testimonies. Indeed, three testimonies-community, equality, and integrity-are also core values. Core values are the essential and enduring tenets of the organization. They are timeless and independent of shifts in educational or societal values as well as current challenges and opportunities. For example, if higher education in 10 years did not care about social justice, would Guilford College still have justice on its list of core values? “Core values are not developed as much as identified; they exist and need only to be discovered and defined.”
In the tradition of the Society of Friends, Guilford College has developed a set of queries or questions to guide how we live the core values in our work. Queries promote self- and group examination through inward reflection. Queries remind us that our actions are proper because they are done thoughtfully and conscientiously and not because they conform to abstract rules. Queries resemble questions, but they do not have simple or standard answers. Queries at Guilford College are phrased at a personal level ("you") in order to encourage the personal responsibility that might be lost if we used more general terms such as "we" or "Guilford College."

Community - we are committed to the cultivation of positive relationships between, and common experiences among, students, faculty, and staff.
Do you act toward building a community that promotes the intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual good of everyone.
When you are part of decision-making group, do you listen carefully to what others say, opening yourself to opinions different from you own?
Do you consult widely with others in making decisions, even if it means more time for the process?
Do you participate regularly in faculty meetings and other meetings and discharge faithfully your committee responsibilities?
Do you avoid spreading rumor and gossip?
Diversity - We are committed to creating an anemic institution where a variety of persons and perspective are welcome. We are committed to providing an environment where students from all cultures and backgrounds may succeed.
Do you seek to understand and appreciate different cultures and social values?
Are you committed to recruiting students and employees of different racial and ethnic origins and physical abilities and of varied gender and sexual orientation?
Do you support faith treatment regardless of race, gender, age, and other differences?
Do you respect persons with contrasting political and social viewpoints, and encourage them to speak out?
Equality - We are committed to creating an institution and a society where everyone is appreciated and judged based on their contributions and performance rather than gender, race, religion, physical abilities, sexuality identity, or socio-economic condition. Through the work of this institution, we will both create awareness and work to eliminate individual and institutional racism.
What have you dones to ensure equal opportunities in social and economic life and in education for those who suffer discrimination?
Do you examine yourself for prejudice and then work to overcome?
To what extent do you recognize the sources and forms of individual and institutional racism and deal with them?
Excellence - we are committed to setting high standards of academic rigor in courses and creating high expectations for achievement by everyone. We seek the personal and intellectual transformation of our students through the liberal arts.
Do you use your influence to elevate the standards of a Guilford education in terms of content, pedagogy, and outcomes?
Do you set high standards for yourself and others?
To what extent do you support the Quaker ideal to develop each student's spiritual strength as well as intellectual and practical skills?
How do you help educate students and other outside of the classroom by conversation or example?

Integrity - we are committed to creating a community that acts with honest and forthrightness, holding ourselves to high academic and ethical standards, and respecting everyone.
- Do you speak the truth even when it feels difficult to do so?
- Do you confront lapses in integrity in yourself and in others?
- Do you credit others appropriately whenever works and ideas are not entirely your own?
- Do you evaluate students, teachers, employees, and colleagues honestly and fairly

Justice - We are committed to the peaceful resolution of conflict, sharing of economic and natural resources, and parity in educational opportunity.
Do you promote peace in your personal and professional relationships, and in the larger society and world?
Do you avoid violence and coercion in your relations with others?
Do you seek to use the Earth's resources responsibly and to foster a sustainable environment?
Do you perform your civic responsibility by voting and giving service?

Stewardship - we are committed to making decisions that will ensure the long-term survival of this institution. We must maximize the value of our human, financial, and physical resources in ways consistent with our Quaker heritage.
What have you done to balance the financial needs of your own work or department with the financial needs of the entire College?
Do you work to influence investments of College assets toward socially desirable ends, avoiding speculation and activities wasteful or harmful to others?
We are committed to making decisions that will ensure the long-term survival of
Do you assume your fair share of financial support for Guilford College?
Do you support the concept of inter-generational equity that avoids meeting today's needs by selling assets or irresponsible borrowing that mortgage the College's future?

One thing to note from this work, now that in 2005, the president, staff, faculty, and students, are no longer majority personally identified as “Quaker” the Quaker tradition needs to be externalized, that is named and articulated as a commitment rather than an identity. For instance, the creation of the 2005 Core Values means that there were not a set of values articulated in this way prior. That is not to say the college did not have principles, but it does mean that those principles were more internal, more assumed. As the college culture shifted away from Quaker as an identity of the people within the organization, it needed to shift from internalized ways of thinking about the role of the Quaker tradition in the life of the college to making it more externalized like other commitments that college makes. Also in this time, and since the 1940s, there had been a growing trend among Quaker schools (K-12 and college) to articulate the school’s connection largely in terms of its values. Quaker theologian and educator, Howard Brinton, published a Pendle Hill Pamphlet (a small Quaker publication) titled, “Quaker Education in Theory and Practice,” meant primarily for Quaker educators four Quaker values for Quaker founded schools: Community, Harmony, Equality, and Simplicity. This began to catch on in Quaker primary schools as a way of talking about what it meant to be a Quaker school in Quaker schools that were increasingly serving non-Quaker students. Then in 1991, Wilmer Cooper, in another Pendle Hill Pamphlet wrote, “The testimony of integrity in the religious Society of Friends,” which argued that there is really only one testimony that is important: Integrity (all the others feed into and flow from this one). Then, shortly after this, the acronym S.P.I.C.E. was created to summarize and blend Brinton’s and Cooper’s lists: Simplicity, Peace (Harmony), Integrity, Community, and Equality. This list was made for primary Quaker schools for teaching non-Quaker first-graders something about what Quakerism is but by 2005 it now became the backbone for how colleges, and some Quaker meetings, were articulating their identity: to be Quaker is to subscribe to this set of values. To that end, the core values have been employed to try and answer the question, is Guilford College Quaker. It no longer has students, staff, faculty who are Quaker but the organization aligns itself with these seven Quaker-inspired, yet secular liberal values. And in doing so, this is what makes it “Quaker.”

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A Quaker School?

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The operative and perennial Question that continues to linger in the wake of Quakers no longer populating the organization they started has been: Is Guilford College a Quaker School?
At Guilford we often hear debate around the questions: is Guilford Quaker or Quaker founded?

Discuss: So what do you think about the question, is Guilford College a Quaker School? What comes up for you when you hear this question?

Create new questions

Have you ever heard this question being discussed by alumni, staff or faculty, current students, trustees, or benefactors of the college?

How does this question usually go?
The question begs an answer that is quantifiable? Who, how many, how long, how good...?
It also raises another question, is there one person or a couple people who can keep Guilford Quaker? Who? And what would they do to make that happen? Would they enforce it? If so, how and in what ways would they do that while also following Quaker principles of non-coercion?
Is there a right or wrong answer to this?

The people at Guilford College currently are the ones who have to deal with this question. So how do they want to answer it? If “Quaker” is no longer the personal identity of 95% of the people at the college, why would they want to either identify with another person’s tradition? Just because it was important to someone else, just because it is passed down? Aren’t those the kinds of reasons that early Quakers railed so loudly against the established church of their own time?
I also think there can be too much pressure put on answering a question like this. Sometimes I wonder if we believe that if we could only answer this question, and be able to demonstrated in the affirmative why Guilford is Quaker, that it would fix all of the college’s problems. But that is way too much to put on a question, and even more to put on a religious tradition that is struggling to survive, at least in the United States.
I don’t think we’re asking the right question.
If that “is Guilford Quaker?” is too limiting a question, what are new questions, better questions to be asked? If the previous question is too fixed for both a living and changing (Quaker) tradition, and a changing college, then what is a question that would give freedom to explore and discern that gives room for non-Quakers to ask the question AND assume responsibility for the answer?


Proposal: What does it mean to be in conversation with what it means for Guilford to be (and remain) connected to the Quaker tradition.

How does this question shift things for you, for us?

The Guilford Quaker Ethos / Ecosystem

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Tradition is a whole (eco)system. You don’t have a tradition without all the pieces working together. Pulling one part of the Quaker tradition out and isolating it, like “Quaker values,” is to leave the rest of the ecosystem of which those values are a part behind.

Where the cultural shifts have left Quaker schools with a set of values trying to account for identity, we could move towards thinking about the relationship to the Quaker tradition - through maintaining conversation and connection - as a commitment to a whole ecosystem / outlook. Rather than “Core Values” alone, we also have at our disposal “Core Stories, Core Practices, and Core Values” being re-interpreted by the Embodied Community of people here now, living in their current cultural context. This makes up an ecosystem of commitments that can shape a community.

Here are a few important, specific pieces of this ecosystem, with a special emphasis on concrete practice:
Importance of Communal Discernment: There is truth and wisdom in the community. We have everything we need to do what this community was created for.
A participatory community is one that shares responsibility, learning, and acting together.
The dignity of all people and the importance of nonviolence as a way of life.
We are to come to every situation as a “Opportunity” with open expectancy

Willingness to hear and respond to the “small truth” or quiet whispers among us. Whose is the furthest voice that needs to be paid attention to?
Deep and active listening as a primary posture in life. The importance of the practice of silence.
Living into Questions - allowing for questions to guide exploration.
Our understanding of truth and practice evolves over time.
The relationships we have and those we seek. Who we are connected to. Who are we supported by, visited by, and challenged by?
Can you name other stories and practices that are true for your community?
How do we build on and strengthen what we have (when it comes to the Quaker ethos of the college)?

Deeper Discussion on The Quaker Tradition and the College

Discussion Process:
30 Mins - Queries at Small Group Tables
Designate reflection listeners 2-3. They only listen and take notes to reflect back what they hear.
25-30 Mins - Reporting back from small groups
30 Mins - Reflective listeners: What are you hearing and not hearing?
Closing question
Next Steps


30 Mins - Queries at Small Group Tables
What are my gifts/what do I bring to the college?
What support or need do I have in order to thrive here?
What have I received from this community thus far?
What does the Quaker tradition have to do with this?

25-30 Mins - Reporting back from small groups
30 Mins - Reflective Listeners: What are you hearing (and not hearing) in what is being shared?


Closing Question: Given our discussions today, how do you think the Quaker tradition and ethos enables the movement in the direction we hope to/need to go? 

Next steps: Are there Next steps that come out of this that we need or want to take?

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