As some of you already know, a beating occurred a little over a week ago at Guilford College in North Carolina, where three students, all of them Palestinian, were punched, kicked, and given concussions by some or all of a group of 15 members of the football team, who allegedly used slurs like “sandnigger” at the time.

I don’t think I have anything particularly deep to say about it, having never gone to Guilford and not knowing what exactly went on. But I’m beginning to think ethnicity and racism are important issues for Friends to be thinking about, so I wanted to post something.

I would like to share two things the incident has made reflect on, however. (Neither directly relates to race, but I’ll have more to say about that after next weekend’s “Slavery Among Friends” workshop.)

How “Quaker” is Guilford anyway?

From what I’ve been reading, Guilford seems to still have a good deal of the Quaker ethos haunting it, and there appear to be close ties between it and the Society of Friends.

But only about 10 percent of the students, faculty and staff are Quakers. And I don’t know, but I suspect that, like most colleges, instead of operating according to Quaker business practices, they run things by votes and the decisions of executives.

Calling it a “historically Quaker college,” or “Quaker-founded,” therefore seem much more truthful.

(For comparison, not even a place like Morehouse College, which is still 95 percent black, is referred to simply as a “black college,” but rather as a “historically black college.”)


Football doesn’t force anyone to commit violent acts, for sure. But I think it’s a legitimate question whether competitive sports in general, and football in particular, encourage macho and ego-centered attitudes, which are among the seeds of violent behavior – and undesirable in themselves even when they don’t bear fruit in actual, physical violence.

How can a school with a strong commitment to equality have a serious football team?

(That’s not a rhetorical question, I’m really asking what people think.)

13 Responses to “Three students beaten at a "Quaker college"”

  1. 1 Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) Jan 30th, 2007 at 8:42 am

    I don’t think football challenges the equality testimony — “We’re Number One!” means first-among-those-with-equal-right-to-compete — but it does challenge the peace testimony.

    I’m glad to see you holding Guilford accountable on your blog.

    The “Slavery Among Friends” workshop oughta be interesting. Heavens, but Quakerism is different Back East than it is out here!

  2. 2 Lorcan Jan 30th, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    I am still at a loss to find words. I can only think of our dear friend Tom Foxes witness among Palestinian people, and his eventual loss to us. I agree with Marshall, that American Football might be a violence, it is one thing to play, a rough and tumble game with friends, but the addition of prideful institutional gain creates an insentive to violence beyond the roughness of the game.

    I think we need to reenter our schools rather than abandon them… they are a witness we have greatly abandoned. Perhaps we bloggers might find a way to go, and witness for Quakerism at Guildford, witness for a weekend, dedicated to our testimonies?

    I really am at a loss.

    Thine in frith and Friendship

  3. 3 Mia Jan 31st, 2007 at 11:04 am

    I am a proud alum of Guilford College, and at the time, was one of that 10 percent of Quakers attending that you seem to dismiss in your post. I can honestly say that I saw more Quaker principles in action at Guilford than I have seen anywhere else, before or since, and that includes in many meetings I have been to.

    The fact that the majority of profs. encourage students to call them by their first names, that many of them dress simply (do not wear robes and regalia for graduation and other college functions), that they encourage smaller classes to be held in circles, rather than rows, signaling the equality between themselves and the students, are just a few things. Student senate is run with consensus (and it was a hard sell for many students who were new to that tradition, but they stuck by it). I was asked to be a student rep on a high-level search committee for a staff person, and was treated with absolutely the same amount of equality as the deans and other faculty members. I could go on and on, but those are just a few examples.

    I think the fact that Guilford has a football team and that they take it seriously says more about their willingness to treat all people equally than if they banned it. Carry thy sword as long as thee can, after all.

  4. 4 Tania Jan 31st, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    I definitely agree that Friends need to be thinking about ethnicity and racial issues. I feel there is a tendency of Friends to focus on racism towards blacks, and I worry that racism towards other groups might be lurking in the shadows.

  5. 5 Zach A Jan 31st, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    I didn’t mean to be dismissive of the Quaker minority at Guilford, or deny that what are usually seen as Friends’ principles are embodied there — which is what I meant by saying it still had “a good deal of the Quaker ethos”. And certainly, I’m willing to be corrected on this, since I’m basing this entirely on my impression from reading about the college this past week.

    But I still am not entirely convinced that the things you list make it a “Quaker college.” The things you list are significant, and I’m glad the college is as egalitarian as it is. But that doesn’t make it “Quaker,” full stop. It’s great that the student senate practices “consensus,” but that isn’t the same as Quaker business procedure (true as it is that many Quaker meetings let their business meeting fall into consensus). And how often does the faculty or administration operate according to either one?

    Moreover, the Quaker identity of the school seems to be a vexed question at the college itself: Max Carter of the college’s Friends Center writes here (html) about the administration “dancing around the school’s Quaker affiliation,” for example. (See also here and here.)

    I understand if the phrases “historically Quaker” and “Quaker heritage” are going too far, and suggest too weak a relationship with the Society — what about “Quaker founded” then? To me that seems like middle ground, and the administration seems to be identifying the school this way a lot anyways.

    Which, turning to Marshall, is why I think asking outside Friends to be more truthful may be more needed here than asking the college to do so.

    In any case, I’m with Lorcan, that Friends should try to “reenter” Quaker-founded institutions rather than “leave” them. But I don’t think acting like they’re more Quaker than they actually are helps this.

  6. 6 Zach A Jan 31st, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    And as for football, Mia, Lorcan, and Marshall,
    I’m not so sure it’s contrary to the “peace testimony.” Friends have often interpreted it to allow lethal force by the police, so I’m sure it can accommodate the nonlethal force involved in football.

    To me it has more to do with encouraging macho, I’m-the-bigger-man attitudes, which in any context seem contrary to the spirit of equality, and which seem like seeds of more serious inequalities like sexism, racism, homo- and transphobia, and so on. Though these of course can lead to war or violence (racism/nationalism especially), which maybe was Marshall’s point.

    Mia: What do you mean by that Fox quote? It’s an unclear quote, both in terms of content and authenticity, so I’m not sure what you mean.

    Everyone: If you want to read more, football + Quakerism was discussed extensively in the comments on this article about the beating from the Chronicle of Higher Education, comment #13 onward.

    Query: Why are there so few female football players?

  7. 7 Martin Kelley Jan 31st, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Personally I’ve had a hard time getting very excited by the Guilford incident from a Quaker standpoint. Obviously, I don’t want there to be racial beatings in the world. But the idea that there might be racist bullies in a 90% non-Quaker school just doesn’t surprise me. From my visits to Greensboro and friendships with students there, I’d concur with Mia that Quakerness is more of an influence in the school than its small number of Quaker students might suggest, but that doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. The beatings seem to say a lot more about American male football culture than about Quaker culture. Friends do need to think about race–historic and current both within and outside of the RSoF–but I’m just not sure what the Guilford incident has to teach us. The most interesting part will be seeing how the Quaker-influenced faculty and student body responds to it over time.

  8. 8 Zach A Jan 31st, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Martin, I agree — which is precisely why I was drawn to the two issues I raised. It seems like it has more to do with “normal” All-American jock vs. everyone else tensions, and little to do with Quakerism, which makes me wonder if the school should have less to do with the one and more with the other.

    This isn’t a matter of “banning” football or any other sport, which I think Mia took me to be suggesting, just not pouring money into it, recruiting students for mainly sports reasons, etc. When I was studying at Oxford (not terribly Quaker itself, of course), I was amazed at how much sports, with the exception of soccer, were extremely casual and just-for-fun affairs — my fairly nonathletic friend played on the lacrosse team, for example, which had cigarette breaks during its once-a-week practices.

  9. 9 Lorcan Feb 1st, 2007 at 9:46 am

    Dear Friends:

    I have a great concern about our testimony of simplicity and truth when the name Friends becomes a brand name. I know Martin, thee and I are likely in unity on this. What it is to be authentically Quaker is not an easy thing. Sometimes we must weigh life in the real world in a way that others do not. For some of us, it was the deep moral self consideration of our commitment and motives in registering as conscientious objectors to wars where that was an option, while for others, during the First World War, it was facing jail and torture for the same decision. Many of us, if not, in each their own way, do not wear our faith lightly, after all, from Mary Dyer to Tom Fox, our faith has a lot of heavy examples to which we must consider that to which we aspire.

    For me the Religious Society of Friends is no brand name. I fence, I shoot black powder, I play some rather rough Celtic sports (had my cheek broken in a hurling match ), so it is not simply the roughness or the association with violence or war that for me is the issue here. In fencing, there is no intent to harm, with all the protections and more, the culture which has grown out of this sport which once prepared one for violent confrontation. On the other hand, American football is not only rife with expressions of violence in the culture of football, the violence of the game is directed, not at competition among friends, but on the standing of the institution, and it has not been my experience watching schools play his game, that it brings a sense of camaraderie to those schools who play the game. Rather, I find it promotes a culture of real, not abstract violence.

    Perhaps we should not be in the school business if we cannot have a school that does not engage in this aspect of the culture of violence which defines the United States, one of the most violent nations on earth. However, we set out to build schools that our children, and the children of others, need not be incultureated into that culture of violence. If this is no longer the case, schools like Guilford might be better served to be more independent of us, including independent of our name. I would grieve this, as a failure of our faith, not theirs.

    In the spirit and process of unity, rather than the compromise of consensus, it is unlikely that we will lay down football in Quaker schools. On the other hand, it is the experience of our faith that inviting God into the process of discernment, as we do in the process of laboring towards unity, has its own beneficial effect on the issues we address. Therefore, that it is unlikely that we will lay down football, is not the best reason for saying that we should not consider this.

    I am posting, in blocks, the pamphlet “Quakerism, Views from the Back Benches.” Back in 1966, much of which we are now laboring was addressed by the Friends who penned this work. I hope in this effort, that we might continue the conversation begun so long ago. The question of what is a Quaker school as well as maintenance of Quaker property is address in the pamphlet, and I hope it is helpful to Friends as we weigh this and other difficult issues.

    Thine in frith and fFriendship

  10. 10 Mia Feb 2nd, 2007 at 10:50 am

    It’s taken me awhile to get back to this–I wanted to sit with the questions Zach and others raised (and there was that little matter of real life interfering…).

    It is quite possible that at the time of the initial post, I was reacting to a (possibly perceived on my part) sense of directive–i.e., Quakers shouldn’t play football because it violates the peace testimony. In other words, there seemed to be some prejudgement going on (and Zach, if that was not the case, I apologize). This is one of the things that gets my dander up, because it implies that the person engaging in the activity has put no thought into it, and is just blindly going along with the rest of the world. It may very well be that they are, but it also could be that the person has very carefully and tenderly searched their heart and feels that–for whatever reason–they wish to engage in the activity in question. If playing football is too weird an example, I’ll give another one. I happen to do public relations for a living. I’ve had Quakers who don’t know me or anything about my work dismiss it out of hand as a violation of the Integrity testimony, since all PR people are slimy and lie. Yes, there are PR people who are not honest–yes, there are sometimes things within the field that test my ability to do my work well when I am trying to live with integrity. But I also have given a lot of thought to how I want to do my work, and what it means to me to communicate honestly to others. Who’s to say, without knowing and talking to other football players, that they haven’t searched their hearts equally deeply? It perpetuates a stereotype if we dismiss their activity out of hand, without trying to get to know them and what is behind their decision. That is what I meant by the “Carry thy sword as long as thee can” quote. Continue the revelation–and maybe at some point they will no longer be able to willingly participate.

    In terms of Guilford’s “Quakerness,” for want of a better word, I tend to think that it is very much there if you know what you are looking for. It’s like when I go to weddings of Friends that aren’t strictly held in the manner of Friends–if you know what you are looking for, you see little glimpses of Quakerism at work. In terms of how we can make that more known and acceptable to people from a non-Quaker tradition, that is a topic for another post.

    Peace be with you.


  11. 11 jez Feb 13th, 2007 at 6:11 am

    I went to Sidcot School (private boarding school) in October 2005. It is one of the British Quaker schools.

    They had a Quaker day and were trying to rediscover or reconnect with their Quakerness.

    I talked to kids of different ages about the peace testimony.

    Many of the kids told me that they knew nothing about Quakers or Quakerism, even though they went to a ‘Quaker’ school and went to Quaker Meeting every day.

    I heard along the way that outside of the Quaker community in BYM, the school was more famous for being somewhere where you could take your horse with you to school (they have stables) than for being Quaker.

    So Quaker in name is not necessarily Quaker in nature.

  12. 12 Zach A Feb 26th, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    Hi Mia & Jez,
    Sorry I didn’t reply for so long – it’s been a crazy few weeks for me.

    Mia, thank you for sharing your experiences with working in PR and talking to other Friends about it. Speaking on one level, I would have some of the same kinds of concerns about PR. But I think I can trust that you are striving to do just that. Speaking on another level, this seems like one example of how Quakers can be narrow-minded, and I hope in the future we can learn to be more accepting of the different ways of being human in this world.

    Your story reminds me a little of how my former girlfriend, who was a stylist at the time, and hoping to move to LA to work in that field or fashion, would go to the Boston meetings sometimes, and usually get a sort of read-between-the-lines “so what are you here?”

    Horses, eh?

    it seems the Quaker nature of Quaker schools is forever an issue. Part of me thinks it would be better if these schools had some kind of charter that stipulated, say, 2/3 of the board must always be Quaker… but that runs counter to the basic idea I believe in that group X should be controlled by the people that make up group X, not by outsiders from group Y…

  13. 13 Laura Feb 28th, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    I went to Sidcot School for a number of years in the 80’s and 90’s. There used to be a real Quaker ethos at the school when I was first there. However it eroded over time, and this I feel was mainly due to the most senior staff.

    At the start of my education we had a number of Quaker senior staff members. But due to decisions of the Board the headmaster and various other senior staff were changed to non-Quakers. This changed the atmosphere of the school - and it became less about Quaker values and more about making profits.

    The loss of these values is a great tradgedy in my eyes, and I feel it is happening to many Quaker schools and Colleges both in the UK and abroad.

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  • There exists, finally, a somewhat numerous class of honest but timid souls who, too intelligent to take the Christian dogmas seriously, reject them in detail, but have neither the courage nor the strength nor the necessary resolution to summarily renounce them altogether. They abandon to your criticism all the special absurdities of religion, they turn up their noses at all the miracles, but they cling desperately to the principal absurdity; the source of all the others, to the miracle that explains and justifies all the other miracles, the existence of God. Their God is not the vigorous and powerful being, the brutally positive God of theology. It is a nebulous, diaphanous, illusory being that vanishes into nothing at the first attempt to grasp it; it is a mirage, an ignis fatuus that neither warms nor illuminates. And yet they hold fast to it, and believe that, were it to disappear, all would disappear with it. They are uncertain, sickly souls, who have lost their reckoning in the present civilization, belonging to neither the present nor the future, pale phantoms eternally suspended between heaven and earth...

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