Sophia Perlmutter ’18 Headed Back to Belize Friends School

Sophia Perlmutter ’18, is in Guilford’s Quaker Leadership Scholars Program and will be a senior this coming year. She is also double majoring in Sustainable Food Systems and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, as well as a Hunger Fellow for the Bonner Center and in the Honors Program.  Sophia is headed back to Belize Friends School this summer to work with the students there. Here is a bit of her story about the upcoming trip and if you’d like to support her, you can do so on the Go Fund Me page she set up for the trip.

“Visiting Belize was one of the most meaningful experiences that I have been fortunate to be a part of since coming to Guilford. I have always loved working with kids and was immediately interested in studying abroad and working with students. I really fell in love with the students, especially the younger ones since I feel more comfortable working with elementary school aged students. Many of them haven’t been offered as many opportunities as we have been offered here in the states, there aren’t always enough teachers in classrooms, materials are sometimes low, and in the case of Belize Friends school, ages 10-15 are taught together, which allows for multiple learning levels and often not enough one-on-one support. The students were incredibly kind and welcoming to us and would teach us things in return, allowing for a natural give-and-take relationship to develop between our group and the students, which was a really nice thing to be a part of.

I am being called back to work at the Belize Friends School because I felt that I didn’t have nearly enough time to work with the students and feel that it makes sense to go back and continue to teach, learn, and grow. When I was younger I had a hard time in school and it took me awhile to realize that I was smart and capable of doing the work. I was lucky because my school offered tutors and learning specialists that were able to help me understand the material in a different way and gain confidence. Many of the students at the Belize Friends School are behind in school because they weren’t given the opportunity to go, or they had an undiagnosed learning disability that made it hard for them to keep up in school. From working one on one with the students for just 10 days, I could see them gaining confidence and understanding the material better because they had someone giving them individual attention. This extra support is exactly what I needed when I was in school and if I am able to give it back to someone, that’s exactly what I will seek out to do.”

You can support this work here: The Belize Friends School Go Fund Me Page


United Society of Friends Women Fall 2016 Brunch by Hannah Billen ‘20

On Saturday, September 17th, I had the opportunity to attend the United Society of Friends Women (NCYM) annual gathering with Wess Daniels. Growing up in an unprogrammed meeting in Seattle, the Bible and Christianity were not central to my experience as a Quaker. So, attending a gathering of Christ-centered Quaker women was a little out of my comfort zone. Although I am coming to value and love the Bible as a part of my faith, I am still not used to sitting in pews and hearing Bible readings during Quaker gatherings. It is sometimes hard for me to connect this type of Quakerism to the faith that I was raised in. One of the only things I am sure about my Quakerism is that it believes in the Light (or the Light of Christ, the Divine, the Spirit, that of God, etc.) within all people, and the women of USFW are clearly living out this belief through their service and mission work. Their support of Friends Campus Ministry NCYM, Friends Center, Belize Friends School, FEMAP, and of many other wonderful programs is an inspiring testimony to their commitment to their faith and to Christ-centered service. The theme of their gathering was “Joy in His Presence” (Psalm 16:11). Not only were they joyful, but they were passionate, loving, powerful and incredibly welcoming. There was a deep sense of community which I felt was extended to me without a moment’s hesitation.

I grew up completely disconnected from Friends outside of my Beanite, unprogrammed yearly meeting. Most of the Quakers I interacted with had theological beliefs and practices very similar to those of myself and my family. I love and appreciate that community which has been so generous and supportive, but my beliefs about what it means to be a Quaker were not often challenged. Programmed Friends were “the other branch”, and I almost never interacted with them. Moving to North Carolina and seeing what it means to be Quaker for others, like the women I met at the USFW annual gathering, has pushed me to think about my faith in ways that are exciting, sometimes difficult, and always fulfilling. I am so grateful for the women of USFW for their gracious welcome and for their support of Friends Center.

Students Go to Belize – Reflections from Laura Adair

Reflections on the work trip from Laura Adair (Class of 2017):

Being from California I have never been able to go home for Guilford’s fall break; and as always Frank Massey invited me to come on the work trip with the Friends Disaster Service group, also known as FDS. This has been a routine trip for me every fall that I have been at Guilford, so of course, I was so excited. However, once I received the list of people who were going I started getting a little nervous because I didn’t really know anyone going on the trip. Since I really didn’t have any other option, I decided to go knowing what a rewarding experience it is to help build a house and to have discussions with people who don’t have the same experiences as me. It started with a very quiet van ride to Evergreen Virginia especially because I was in the van with only four Guilford students. Thankfully, once we arrived at our destination silence was never a problem again. Almost all of the other students knew each other, being either first-year students or international students that had crossed paths before. I, thankfully, was welcomed immediately by many of the older FDS workers who remembered me even though it had been almost two years since I’d been on a work trip.  All of the international students and people I didn’t know from Guilford welcomed me into their circle. As the week went on our relationships grew stronger, our work got better, and our laughter was louder. By the end of the work trip, whole group had grown much closer and really felt like a family. It was so wonderful to be building a house for someone in need while building our own community with all of the people from Friends Disaster Service, United Methodist Disaster Response and the Guilford College students.

Judith Weller Harvey Quaker Scholar Michele Tarter

“Life Sentences: Writing with Wisewomen Behind Bars”

This is Guilford College and Friends Center’s “Judith Weller Harvey Quaker Scholar” Lecture given by Michele Tarter, an early American Literature professor and Quaker scholar. In the lecture she talks about her 15 years of teaching Woman is the Word, a memoir-writing workshop in a prison for women. She will also talk about early Quakers, especially Quaker women, who spent quite a lot of time in jails.

You can listen to the file here but you will first need to request access as it is a private download.

A Trip to Peru for FWCC World Plenary

As we think about the future of Friends Center and the Quaker Leadship Scholars Program at Guilford College, one area we want to grow into more is with worldwide Quakers.

Part of this means that we are dreaming of what a Global Quaker Center for Quaker Leadership might look like. The landscape of the Quaker world has shifted considerably towards Friends in other parts of the worlds with vastly different experiences, practices and languages than our own. We want to be training young leaders for the Quaker tradition globally and not just for those primarily in the United States. To this end we are focusing some of our work on traveling and building more diverse connections home and abroad.

With that in mind, I had the great privilege to travel to Pisaq, Peru this January for the FWCC World Plenary with two of our QLSP students: Elena Robles (‘17) and Katie Claggett (’19).

The purpose of the trip was to learn more about global Quakerism, especially Latin American Quakerism, build connections with international Quakers, raise the profile of Guilford College and Friends Center and begin building a list of names of people we can connect with in recruiting international Quaker students.

The trip was positive in all these aspects. The soil has clearly been ploughed. The reputation of QLSP, Friends Center and Guilford College is very strong among Friends globally and there are many hungry and interested in our program. We made many new friendships and plans about how to move forward.

This trip south, and other work of similar nature, will impact the direction of our leadership program, our scholarship, recruitment, and fundraising. We see the need to expand our reach into more international circles so that we can be supporting more Quakers globally. This is only the beginning and your help is needed. The interest is there and now we need the resources to make it happen.

To read more updates on Twitter about the trip follow this link.

A Trip to Belize

Frank Massey, Campus Ministry Coordinator, led a January Term to Belize to learn of the work of Belize Friends School (BFS).  Thirteen Guilford students participated in the program, tutored and engaged with the BFS students several hours each day of the two week program.  The students will present a program to the campus community this spring, and write a history of Belize Friends School.  Another trip is planned for January 2017.

Wild Birds, Fantasy, and the Possible by Jim Hood

Message given for All College Meeting for Worship at Guilford College

3 February 2016

Jim Hood, Professor of English

Wild Birds

I begin in memory, impression:  images and stories.

A boy approaching adolescence—shy, bookish, growing up in south Florida’s perpetual summer—inaugurates a life-long wonderment with wild birds, spending his free hours perched in ficus and Brazilian pepper trees, watching for warblers and cuckoos.  He lives in a lush, tropical place, ten miles from the eastern edge of the Everglades, the wide and sluggish river of grass that flows from the southern margin of Lake Okeechobee ever-so-slightly-down the bottom of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico.   Even the names of the birds there tattoo mysterious rhythms in one’s head:  anhinga and ani, egret and heron, flamingo and spoonbill, ibis and bittern, limpkin and gallinule.

With paper route and lawn-mowing money, the boy buys his first pair of binoculars from Sears and his first bird book, Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds:  Eastern Land and Water Birds (Boston:  Houghton-Mifflin, 1947), the second revised and enlarged edition, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, printed on heavy paper with rain-resistant covers.  When he goes looking for blue jeans, he brings the field guide along, checking to see that it fits in the back pocket.  He begins keeping his Life List in the front of his Peterson’s, especially proud of the following entries:

Marsh Hawk  1/8/1975

Bald Eagle 3/19/1972?

Everglade Kite  12/10/1972

Pileated Woodpecker  1/10/1976

He finds the first sentence of Peterson’s Appendix on “Accidentals” mesmerizing:  “The great hope of every field man is to see rare birds” (185).  Before long, he will write a few Life List names in the blanks under the “Accidentals, Strays, and Others” heading:

Bahama Swallowtail and Bahama Bananaquit, Andros Island, Bahamas, 6/17 to 6/30/1973

Scarlet Ibis, Greynolds Park, 6/8/1974

The boy has a recurring dream.  In this dream, he can will himself skyward, moving his arms up and then down, firmly but not frantically, in all sorts of Technicolor locales, and he glides over buildings and trees, swooping down from high places and catching an updraft, swimming in air as he can in the water, where he actually spends much of his time.

He reads what will become one of the favorite books of his youth, a young adult novel by Jean Craighead George called My Side of the Mountain. It tells the story of Sam Gribley, a boy about his age, who runs away from a cramped and congested New York City to his great-grandfather’s abandoned farm property in the Catskills and makes his home there in a hollow tree.  Sam captures a peregrine falcon nestling, names it “Frightful,” and trains the bird to hunt small game for him.  He befriends a weasel that he christens “the Baron.”  Eventually, Sam abandons the woods to come home to New York, realizing he needs human contact.

One day, the boy rides his bicycle west to the edge of the river of grass and sets a temporary camp at the side of a canal.  He gathers cattail roots to roast and, with a hook, makeshift pole and line, he catches a bream.  Lighting a small fire with flint and steel, he cooks and eats the fish and cattail, the latter of which tastes a lot like muddy canal.  After of couple of hours, he climbs back on his bike and heads home for dinner.

The boy’s eighth-grade English teacher—who one Friday afternoon in spring reads aloud “The Scarlet Ibis,” James Hurst’s sentimental story about sibling rivalry, a rare bird, and mortality—encourages his experiments in verse and tells him he can become a great poet.  He falls in love with the idea of being hailed as the next John Keats, but he does not find himself compelled to be actually writing.  The lure of imagined fame occludes the tangible act that might produce it.

In the summer of his junior year in high school, his former eighth-grade science teacher, Miss Kicklighter, calls on a Saturday morning to tell him that Scarlet Ibises are nesting at Greynolds Park.  He borrows his parents’ car, drives to North Miami Beach with a friend, and meets Miss Kicklighter there to witness spectacular, deep red birds swaying in green mangroves.  Like the bird in the short story, these ibises are far from their usual home in the Caribbean and South America.  Accidentals.


Such stories trace the imaginative topography of my growing up, a landscape perhaps more featured with desire than accomplishment.

Fast-forward thirty-three years.  I’m preparing to go with a group of Guilford students on a three-week van camping excursion around California, teamed up with Maia Dery who’s teaching the course entitled “The American Landscape.”  We’re reading about the history of landscape painting and photography, how they shaped American environmental consciousness, and we’ll be taking photographs of iconic landscapes like the Sierras, Mono Lake, Yosemite, and the Pacific Coast.  Prior to our departure, we’re down at the Guilford Lake, and Maia’s teaching us how to see with a camera lens.  I keep trying to get pictures of a flitting Eastern Towhee with my point-and-shoot.  I’m ill-equipped and impatient, and the bird is too fast and too far away.  I show Maia the results.  She says:  “You want what you can’t have, don’t you?”

Reflecting back on all this now, I wonder if the two most besetting sins of my life have been a lack of patience and a tendency to dream the impossible dream, to indulge in that truancy of the imagination twentieth-century British novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch calls “fantasy.”   For Murdoch, such fantasy takes multiple forms, but her fiction testifies mainly to its witchery in realm of human love. In The Sea, The Sea, her 1978 Booker Prize-winning novel, for example, the narrator, Charles Arrowby, a formerly-famed theater director who has retired to a remote ocean-side village, begins to realize how his completely unrealistic attempts to rekindle a relationship with Hartley, his first and truest love, are leading him into emotional paralysis:

Some kinds of obsession, of which being in love is one, paralyse the ordinary free-wheeling of the mind, its natural open interested curious mode of being, which is sometimes persuasively defined as rationality.  I was sane enough to know that I was in a state of total obsession and that I could only think, over and over again, certain agonizing thoughts, could only run continually along the same rat-paths of fantasy and intent.  But I was not sane enough to interrupt this mechanical movement or even desire to do so.  (The Sea, the Sea 391 [Penquin ed.]).

In a philosophical study, Murdoch echoes this fictional character, claiming that the chief enemy of excellence in morality (and also in art) is personal fantasy:  the tissue of self-aggrandizing and consoling wishes and dreams which prevents one from seeing what is there outside one.  (57 The Sovereignty of Good)

“Almost anything that consoles us is a fake,” she says (58).  Whoosh: there goes every rom com I ever loved.  There goes Pride and Prejudice. There goes chocolate.

Murdoch’s call to reject the consolation of fantasy may seem a bitter physic, but she isn’t rejecting human imagination itself, only certain pernicious forms in which it depletes our capacity to engage fully and honestly with the world and other beings.  For her, love is the imagination’s poison, but it is also its best medicine.  For although love can lead us into the temptations of fantasy, it can also propel us into ethical, possible, real care for others, who exist outside what Murdoch calls “the fat, relentless ego.”  Her picture of the ego unleashed as a bloated, self-absorbed Jabba the Hut (does Donald Trump spring to mind?) is not a pretty one, but it helps me to recognize in it a certain resemblance to a boy dreaming of wilderness survival or poetic greatness while not expecting to do anything much to earn it.  To manage that admittedly ravenous ego well, however, becomes the key to a radical acknowledgement of the claims of the other, which for some thinkers is the core of becoming ethical.  To make charitable, not egocentric, love the first motion (to paraphrase John Woolman) is to embark on the ethical path. Murdoch’s ideas about love, the ego, consolation, and attention—she also talks about paying attention as a mechanism for counteracting illusion (_Sovereignty of the Good_ 36)—recall the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, the practice of focusing in the present and filtering out illusion and other forms of wishful thinking.  If, as Thomas Lowe Fleischner says, in an essay about mindfulness and keen observation of the natural world, “we are what we pay attention to” (9), then keeping our attention focused on the possible, in the here and now, seems like a very good thing to be doing.  Mindfulness, or what Quakers call being “centered,” trains our attention away from fantasy.  We could call it the practice of keeping it real, of tending the possible.

The possible

I have sometimes wondered whether institutions, perhaps because of their histories, have certain sensibilities and proclivities, like people do.  I’ve thought perhaps I fell in love with Guilford because we share certain tendencies:  a desire to be different things—too many, probably—to different people; a wish for excellence, but sometimes a lack of resources or will to bring that to fruition; a longing to assist others, sometimes to my own detriment, acting out of duty rather than abiding love; a tendency to judge myself too harshly; a penchant for silliness; a willingness to be too easily distracted instead of staying focused on the long-term goal.  Does Guilford give its institutional ego over to fantasy sometimes instead of tending the possible? Becoming centered challenges me to reject romanticized fantasy, to do something more complex and paradoxical.  It calls me to live imaginatively in what is possible, in fervent desire for what I and the world can indeed become.  I cannot simply sit back and accept everything before me as what is meant to be; nor can I wallow in longing for that which will never come to pass.  The same is true for love as for social justice.  Neither is possible without reimagining the present into something different and new; neither will come into being without such striving remaining tied at all four corners to what is possible.  I could photograph wild birds quite well, but it would take the patience of sitting in a blind, hour upon hour, watching, waiting, and letting things be as they are.  Guilford can be the change it wants to see in the world, but it will take great courage, great fortitude, sacrifice, and focus.

As some of you may recall, on or around December 1 last year, a strange bird showed up amidst the flock of Canada Geese that generally keep the campus grass cropped and decorate our brick walkways with their greenish leavings.  It was an accidental, a Ross’s Goose, a large white bird with black wing tips about the size of the Muscovy ducks that plod about the quad occasionally.  The Ross’s Goose caused a minor sensation in the local birding community.  Sometimes they show up in the very northeastern corner of North Carolina, but their main migration routes lie hundreds of miles to the west, down from Canada through the plains states to the Gulf coast of Texas and farther west through Montana and Idaho to California and Mexico for the winter. Here in Greensboro, this was a rare bird indeed, and I was thrilled to be able to add it to my own Life List.

That accidental and absolutely real goose reminded me that rare things, while unusual, are possible, and that to conceive of myself, Guilford, or the world as better—without resorting to fantasy—is a good and rightful thing to do.  It reminds me today that to work mindfully towards the betterment of all lives, human and non-human, can keep me tending toward the center.  So here’s to wild birds helping us to dispel the fickle allure of fantasy, to imagine the possible, and to make new realities come to pass.  We can accept the limitations nature has given us, picture distant new destinations, and fly.