Quaker Orientation

Welcome to Guilford College. This webpage is meant to offer some background and resources for helping to orient you in what it means that Guilford College has a Quaker heritage. This page was written and compiled to help give an overview of the Quaker tradition and how it relates to Guilford College today. You should see this as a kind of “onboarding” experience that you can come back to over time and draw on when you have questions about some of the ways Quakerism still influences the ethos of the college. Please do not hesitate to reach out and ask questions, Friends Center staff are happy to assist you.

Wess Daniels
William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College

September 2020

Friends Center at Guilford College

Guilford College was known first as New Garden Boarding School, a co-educational primary school for Quaker children in North Carolina. After surviving the Civil War, the boarding school became a college. While Quakers have always worked at the college and sent their students there, there is no official link between a Quaker yearly meeting body and the college. The board of trustees of the college must have Quaker representation on it but beyond that connections to Quakerism has shifted over time.

In 1982, with the full support of the Board of Trustees President William R. Rogers and Judith Weller-Harvey (Founding Director of the Friends Center) created the Friends Center with the purposes of linking southern Quakerism to the college, and helping to strengthen and nurture Quakerism at Guilford. For the past 40 years, Friends Center has partnered closely with the President’s office, the Board of Trustees, staff, faculty, students, and Quakers around the world to ensure that Guilford College is a pre-eminent place for Quaker higher education.

Quaker Leadership Scholars Program

Guilford College’s Quaker Leadership Scholars Program – Hear from some of our alumni

In 1992, Max Carter created the Quaker Leadership Scholars program which has had a profound impact on the next generation of Quaker leadership. After more than 25 years of QLSP, there have been more than 300 students who have gone through the program and lead and serve their communities in ways that Friends should feel proud of.

Today, Aleks Babić, Ph.D., directs the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program, which aims to apprentice students to the Quaker tradition. The program focuses on four key areas: social and racial justice, community-building & worship, community service, and learning the Quaker tradition through study.

You can learn more about the program here.

Multifaith Collaboration

Rooted in the Quaker belief that there is “that of God in everyone,” our basic approach to religious and spiritual life at Guilford College is through interfaith cooperation. We seek to practice “radical hospitality” where all faith traditions are welcome into a religiously plural community for dialogue and exchange towards a positive end.

Friends Center works with the Interfaith Leadership Council to provide tradition-appropriate programing and to broaden our campus support.

You can find an interfaith prayer room that is available to use at Friends Center, there are opportunities for gatherings of silence and meditation, prayer groups, and more.

You can learn more about the “ILC” and our Multifaith Collaboration here.

Underground Railroad Tree Tour and Curriculum

The Coffin family, and some other New Garden Quakers, were active in the Underground Railroad partnering with freed and enslaved Africans to mobilize one of the largest multiracial coalitions this country has ever seen. Much of the early activity happened in and very near the Guilford College woods, which is believed to be the Southern most terminus of the Underground Railroad.

Today, the Underground Railroad stands as an uncommon symbol to Guilford of what it means to allow one’s practices and principles to align in such a way that one cannot help but respond to the needs of the marginalized and oppressed in our time.

The Underground Railroad Tree invites us to consider the question, “Do we seek to create justice and places of refuge in our own community and in the world at large?” The Tulip Poplar tree dates back to before 1800 and was present during the documented operation of the Underground Railroad in Guilford County between 1819-1852. The tree serves as a silent witness to the lives and actions of African Americans (enslaved and free) and their white allies which included many Quakers from New Garden.

Underground Railroad Site

With the help of a grant from the Tennebaum-Sternberger Foundation, Friends Center in partnership with Quaker Archives, Bonner Center for Community Learning, and others were able to develop a curriculum that tells this story and centers the stories and lives of enslaved Africans in their struggle for freedom.

Learn more about the Underground Railroad Curriculum and other Underground Railroad related history here.


Articles about the History of Guilford College


Terra Nullius: Guilford College before Guilford College

By Damon Akins (History Department) – August 2018

Guilford College is a hard place to pin down. It’s Quaker settlement in the slaveholding south in the eighteenth century makes it distinct both from other Quaker settlements in Indiana and Pennsylvania, and from much of the rest of the south. But its elusiveness precedes that.

Prior to the settlement of the Pennsylvania Quakers, the area was sparsely and seasonally inhabited by the Keyauwee and the Saura (often spelled Cheraw, and occasionally applied to the Keyauwee as well). Both groups shared dialects of the Siouan language group, a testament to long ago migrations and cultural contact between indigenous peoples from the northern plains and the upper southeast. Keyauwee territory was further south in present-day Randolph County, while the Saura held territory along the Dan and Haw Rivers in present-day Rockingham, Stokes and Guilford County. The two most important Saura settlements were called, appropriately, Upper Sauratown (near present day Walnut Cove, Stokes County) and Lower Sauratown.[1] Continue reading by downloading the .pdf


Quaker Decision-Making at Guilford College

By Jim Hood (English Department) – September 2018

Quaker decision-making practice, sometimes known as “consensus decision-making,” began in England at the founding of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  Grounded in the radically-egalitarian idea that all persons have within themselves an equal measure of the divine, this strategy for coming to agreement in business meetings was first used by Friends in the London Business Meeting in 1655.  As Edward Burrough put it in a 1662 letter describing the practice, the Quakers met “in love, coolness, . . . as one only party, . . . to determine of things by a general mutual concord, in assenting together as one man [sic] in the spirit of truth and equity, and by the authority thereof” (qtd. in Sheeran 4).

Essentially, the consensus model places a high value on making decisions as a community, regarding compromise and willing suspension of personal preference or gain as mechanisms for achieving a higher unity of purpose.  In the religious context of a Friends meeting, those involved in communal decision-making share a core belief in some transcendent power that guides their business meetings, what some Quakers call “Meeting for Worship with attention to Business.”   In a secular context like Guilford College, we cannot assume such a shared faith in something divine.  Faculty meeting decision-making, as well as other instances of decision-making at the College, is nevertheless grounded in the consensus model that Quakers developed and have used for over three hundred years.

What Quakers Believe

“Quakers are a worldwide, global community of people who are diverse in every way, include what they believe and practice. There are Quakers who are progressive Christians, there are Quakers who are Evangelical, and Friends who are unsure about labels, or even atheist. The variety of theological beliefs today among Friends is very broad because it is a tradition that has history held in tension personal experience, biblical understanding, and the discernment of the community.”

Read more about What Quakers Believe on Quaker.org.

Who Quakers Are

“The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) are a movement within Christianity that began in 1650s England. Early Friends sought to revive “primitive Christianity” by going back to the roots of Jesus’ teachings around non-violence, simple living, God’s concern for the marginalized, the immediate and equal access to God’s Spirit.”

Read more about who Quakers are on Quaker.org.

Quaker Glossary

A glossary of Quaker words you might hear on campus was prepared by Gertrude Beal and Kate Hood in 2009. You can access one version of that list here.