Of all Quaker values, the principle of equality is probably the most visible. And when asked what distinguishes Guilford from other colleges, most students and alumni will cite the community's notable lack of hierarchy.
Classroom seats are arranged in circles, not in rows. Students call professors – and even the president of the College – by their first names. Students even serve in the College leadership, helping draft long-range strategic plans and choose the dining services provider.
The Core Value of equality is deeply tied to Guilford’s Quaker roots. In fact, equality is also a Quaker testimony, or something that members of the Society of Friends commit to believing.
Quakers believe that the “divine spark” exists in every individual. Though the vast majority of Guilford students aren’t Quaker themselves, the Guilford community long ago adopted equality as one of its guiding Core Values. From its founding in 1837 as one of the only schools in the country that educated both male and female students (and hired male and female teachers), Guilford has strived to be a place where people are judged on their contributions and character.
That’s what attracted Julia Draper ’15 to Quakerism while she was still in high school. “I kind of grew up without any religion in my life. So in early high school I did a research project where I looked at different religions,” she says. “It was actually the equality piece of Quakerism that appealed to me most. I liked the whole idea that everyone has something spectacular in them, and that therefore everyone is kind of on the same plane. I liked the idea of not having a minister who knows all. That all just kind of made intuitive sense to me.”
“I feel like Guilford does a good job of carrying that out,” she continues. “I was at a faculty meeting the other day coming to speak about some of the work I’ve done as a Principled Problem Solving Scholar. I realized later that it hadn’t even occurred to me that I wasn’t in a room of my peers… I feel like these people are my friends and colleagues.”
Julia, from Tallahassee, Fla., knew about Guilford from friends and family members who’d attended previously. She was looking for a small school where she could grow as an individual and form lasting relationships. Guilford’s Quaker environment was a plus, particularly the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program, which would allow Julia to deepen her newfound faith.
She was also attracted to Guilford’s Integrative Studies Program, which allows students to build their own majors through existing course offerings, independent studies and internships. Julia developed her concentration in integrative health care. “I realized for me, the way that I want to create peace is through creating physical, mental and spiritual wellness that kind of ripples out into the community,” she says, “not just the typical health care system.”
“Guilford's learning process is two way; knowledge isn't handed down from on high. Instead, students educate one another, and even their professors.”
With that freedom and respect comes responsibility to live by the highest ethical values. Guilford’s campus judicial system heavily involves student input and focuses on restorative justice. Julia is a community representative to the Judicial Board, which handles violations of the student handbook. If a student who’s been written up for a violation is found responsible, “We, with the student, brainstorm ways they can give back to the community,” Julia says. “It’s less about making the student feel guilty, and more about encouraging them to engage in the community, and to have more of a conscious understanding of the decisions they made leading up to the violation.”
“I love Guilford for what it’s allowed me to become in terms of the amount of freedom I have to be an individual, but also the amount of access I have to professors and staff members who really serve as these great role models who I get to know, not from afar, but almost as colleagues,” she says. “That’s really a great strength of Guilford.”