Kyle Farmbry recently wrapped up his first semester as president of Guilford College. Among his new initiatives is a project called “Guilford Dialogues.” The plan is to bring in nationally known figures, such as Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Eugene Robinson, alongside local community members, activists and organizers to develop solutions for some of the area's most difficult problems. The first topic is economic inclusion.
WFDD's Paul Garber spoke with Farmbry about the project and what he hopes it will achieve.
On why he started the Guilford Dialogues program:
I wanted to find a way to show off Guilford. We have a really beautiful campus and we've got a lake, we've got some wonderful fields, we have just, you know, places where people feel like I think they can come and just ground themselves and relax and reflect on whatever is on their mind at a given moment. And I think in some ways, it's a place that many people don't know about, and I wish more people would so so part of the goal of the Guilford Dialogues is simply to get people here. The other is to create a space where we can think about some large social issues.
On how the dialogues will work:
So we have an opening session that's going to look at mapping challenges around economic inclusion. You know, we're really excited, we've got a great panel for that — one of the co-presidents from JPMorgan Chase, we have the city manager for Greensboro with several of our professors. We then have some discussions around race, and gender and economic inclusion. We have a panel and discussion looking at issues of migration, and economic inclusion, particularly looking at refugee populations. One of the things I found out about Greensboro is that it's a major resettlement hub. As Greensboro and other cities accept refugees from all over the world, there are questions around ‘How do you make sure they are economically integrated into the community?' So we'll spend time looking at that.
On why the focus is on economic inclusion:
I've lived in different parts of the country. I've actually spent a lot of time in different parts of the world. And one of the constants that that I've seen over the years is that there are these wealth gaps. There are gaps in ownership, there are gaps in opportunity. There are gaps in housing access. After having been hit time and time and time again with just the statistics around the haves and the have nots, and after having been in enough cars, where it's easy to drive down a road, and across the literal or the metaphoric tracks that often divides communities, and where you can see the dividing lines. And as I started to think about the sort of power of Guilford, you know, the power of this place where reflection takes place where people are about social action and social change, I really wanted to figure out a way that we could actively work on on a pressing issue. And for a number of reasons is this seemed like a core issue for us to dive into.
On the transition from Rutgers University, where he served as professor and dean, to Guilford College:
You think about the Rutgers system, which has about 70,000 students. And I was on the Rutgers Newark campus, which had about 15,000. And here I am now at Guilford College, a college with 1,300 students. Our average class size here at Guilford is about 14. So when you're talking about class of 14 people over the course of a semester, they get to know their professor, and those professors get really vested in the success of the students, I think very differently than you can in a larger institution.