What makes Guilford College special?
Orren Falk, Guest Writer, Part-Time Faculty Member
September 28, 2012
Filed under Opinion
WHY IS GUILFORD COLLEGE SPECIAL?
An Informal Survey of Approximately 170 Students
Conducted by Orren Falk, part-time faculty member
Some time ago, when I met Kent Chabotar, I commented I thought Guilford was very special. He asked me why. I do not remember what I said, but I knew at the time, it didn’t capture what I thought. It has been bothering me ever since, so I decided to conduct an informal survey of why students thought Guilford was special or why it was terrible.
I talked with approximately 170 students over a period of one year. I walked up to random students and asked if they would talk with me about why they thought Guilford was special.* Everyone agreed to talk with me with the exception of seven students (two were going to class and one was late for a meeting). Students were open and friendly, and were candid and sincere when answering my questions. No one was critical or skeptical (to me), about my motives. This epitomized the sense of community almost every student talked about.
The other issue students most often mentioned was the excellence of the teachers and learning environment. The personal story of the first student I spoke with singularly demonstrated this strength. The student said she had a difficult relationship with her parents when she started at Guilford. She further explained that her parents were artists and she felt so distant from them that when she started out in college, she was a forensic accounting major. However, in her time here the Art Department helped her look at art differently, and she was graduating as an art major.
The rhyme and syncopation of my favorite quote from this process (following), compelled me to ask the student his major. The answer was accounting, which was somehow both hilarious and perfectly fitting.
“This is not a school of rote memorization. Guilford’s a tight knit community of learning actualization.”
I was most surprised and impressed that students mentioned Guilford’s core values. It is rare to actualize a set of core values. Many institutions strive to “walk the talk,” and it was remarkable that Guilford was able to realize this goal.
The following is the summary of my informal survey. I did not suggest any of the topics below. They are in the order in which they were mentioned.
All of the students, with the exception of two, responded that Guilford was special (and not terrible). This is not to say there weren’t negative comments; there were complaints, and they are included below. Community and teachers/class size were overwhelmingly (about 85-90 percent) the areas students mentioned when answering why Guilford was special.
Generally, this was expressed in two main ways:
- Acceptance of Individuality
- No one is judged and you are free to be who you are, regardless of what that may be.
- Guilford is a haven for students who take pride in their individuality.
- There is no pressure to conform; you aren’t attacked for who you are.
- There is mutual respect.
- You always hear that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but here you really learn it.
- I spoke with two disabled students, and each said the administration was especially supportive and the students were also helpful.
- Guilford feels very comfortable and everyone is really nice.
- There are always going to be cliques, but here you are accepted by everyone, even if it’s not your group of friends.
- Unique — everyone is treated like they are special.
- You can be alone if you want, but there is always a place for you.
- Everyone supports each other.
- Guilford’s small size creates a strong sense of community, a tight-knit community.
- Freshman, in particular, were struck by the fact everyone was friendly and supportive.
- Negatives about Community
- Athletes overwhelmingly feel separate from other students and not a part of the community. They are very positive about the athletic programs, but feel the students don’t support the teams.
- Some non-athletes feel athletes are closed off to everyone else.
- It seems like the administration is trying to make Guilford more conformist.
- There was some skepticism about the new projects and how money was being spent.
- The two students that thought Guilford was not special had taken a leave of absence and just returned. They felt the students had changed and were too cliquey.
FACULTY AND LEARNING
- Faculty has a passion for the subjects they teach.
- Faculty cares on a personal level about the students; there is personalized attention.
- Teachers remember your name, even after the course is over.
- Teachers support you and are happy to meet you, even if it’s not during office hours.
- Most CCE students said the teachers were incredible and really cared.
- Class sizes are small. You don’t get this at any other school.
- You don’t just memorize material; you have to talk about it.
- You grow as a student because you feel accepted; you’re not afraid to talk in class.
- You’re not just a number.
- Athletes are part of the class and aren’t cliquey.
- Academically, it is rigorous.
- CCE students made the class discussions richer.
- Negative about Teachers and Learning
- Some participants surveyed thought that CCE students are a step below academically and are unsophisticated with technology.
- Academically, it is not rigorous.
- Campus is beautiful.
- When coming on campus, you feel like you are in an oasis.
- “Guilford bubble”
- Founders Hall is incredible.
Negative About Campus
- The college puts too much money into buildings and athletics.
- Some participants thought that campus security has grown worse and much stricter.
- Some participants surveyed thought that it was okay for campus security to be proactive, but that they don’t wait for a problem to occur; they stalk you.
- Some participants thought that campus security had an attitude and that it isn’t that they’re trying to help.
- Nine students specifically cited core values.
- Most of them mentioned stewardship, citing the teachers.
- Excellence – top academically.
- A few students commented about the Honor Code, how it is posted in every classroom, and there is a sense of its importance.
- The school works with you and truly helps you get money.
- The financial aid office is supportive and helps throughout the process, not just at the start.
- Some participants thought that their financial aid advisor was fantastic
- Guilford is affordable (majority); Guilford is expensive (one person).
- Some people thought the food was good; others thought it was awful.
- People were uncertain about the new hours of the Grill.
BRING BACK BONFIRES!
The topic of the bonfire is last although it was mentioned many times. I have highlighted this because after community and teachers, students seemed most passionate about bringing back bonfires.
- Seniors and juniors vigorously argued that the bonfire tradition should return. Their primary point was that it was a singular campus event that included everyone on an equal plane. It was different from sports or a play because they have their own constituencies.
- The school acknowledged safety concerns but students pointed out that other schools still have bonfires.
- Many people said that bonfires were one of their highlights at Guilford.
For me, the informal survey was an extraordinary experience. I felt welcomed and secure doing something about a question I could not shake. I was not concerned about acting independently; I had a sense of supported autonomy. This is unusual and quintessential Guilford College. I observed the strong community and learning environment the students talked about. The next time I comment that Guilford is special, I will know the answer if someone asks me why.
*Over a period of one year, I talked with students all around campus and at different times. I simply walked up and said, “Hi. Can I talk with you for a minute? I’m Orren Falk and I’m a part-time faculty member doing a survey about why Guilford is special – or why it’s terrible. You can say whatever you want. The administration doesn’t know anything about this and I’m not using any names, though I am taking notes. This is an unscientific and informal survey, and I wondering if you could tell me what you think.”