The Universities Studying Slavery (USS) movement continues to grow–we remain quite busy here at UVA as we invite schools to join the consortium, connect to so many resources across the globe, and forge ahead publicly with their own attempts to come to terms with the difficult aspects of their institutional pasts. Today, Guilford College in North Carolina—which originated as an exclusively white, co-educational consciously anti-slavery educational institution—has joined.
Opened in 1837 as New Garden Boarding School, now known as Guilford College, the school remains the only Quaker-founded college in the southeastern United States. This legacy is complex and presents examples of pride as well as of missed opportunities and enforcement of the status quo. Often the heritage of resisting slavery has muted or overshadowed narratives about Guilford College’s complicity with racial segregation and other forms of racial oppression that have continued long past the official legal end of slavery in the U.S. Today the institution touts the campus land as a place that provided refuge to enslaved African Americans in the early nineteenth century and, 56 years after enrollment of Guilford’s first full-time African American student, has a 25% African American student population (but only 5% of faculty). Guilford College’s identity is as a historically white institution that defied slavery and has often prided itself in valuing equality, but it has much work to do to come to terms with its fuller history and to develop into a truly anti-racist institution. The question for Guilford is how a historically white institution might best live into its stated aspirational values of equality and justice, with acknowledgement of past missteps and transgressions, to construct a future that supports all students to their fullest potential.
Guilford College is enthusiastic about joining the Universities Studying Slavery group because it aligns well with a number of initiatives they already have underway. The school is excited by the potential of placing these projects together in conversation with the larger work of USS in a way that might engage their campus more fully and bring together a variety of projects within this larger initiative. Current campus leadership is from Krishauna Hines-Gaither (Intercultural Engagement Center) and Gwen Gosney Erickson (Quaker Archives). They hope to engage students and other colleagues directly through participation in future USS conferences. There are also plans to develop campus historical walking tours and other resources in the future. Other projects were already underway there. These include the Underground Railroad trail and K-12 Curriculum, recognition of the Quaker Archives as a research facility and the campus property as a site in the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program, as well as ongoing campus anti-racism work. Guilford College’s Center for Principled Problem Solving recently sponsored a group of faculty and staff visiting the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. While the school does not yet have an established working group specific to USS, it has already established relationships and collaborations between the Quaker Archives, the college’s centers (Friends, Intercultural Engagement, and Principled Problem Solving), the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Institutional Research that lend themselves to furtherance of this work and potential development of expanding opportunities through more focused student and faculty engagement.
Please welcome Guilford College to Universities Studying Slavery (USS)–we hope that participation in the movement proves as fruitful for them as it has for us.