New Voices: Why We Need Affinity Groups

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I go to a predominantly white institution (PWI), Breck School. My experience has taught me that we have to separate the students by race.

When we hear about separating our students based on their affinities, our minds often rush to the “white only” signs and separate buses. The National Review even called the affinity groups “old Jim Crow.” However, there are advantages to grouping students based on their similarities. Separating students by shared identities into affinity groups will lead to better race relations and better mental health.

According to a item in the National Association of Independent Schools, affinity groups are defined as “groups of people with common interests, backgrounds and experiences who come together to support each other”. The concept of affinity groups began during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, when companies created spaces for their black employees to share their experiences. Companies like Xerox and AT&T have had employee affinity groups for half a century.

America is an even more diverse country today than it was when the concept of affinity groups was created. Contrary to many beliefs, this diversity does not make children “color blind”. From the age of 9 months, children recognize and categorize people based on race. At 4 years old, some children associate wealth and upper class with the white race. As students enter the school system, they bring ideas and categorizations from their families.

Especially in PWIs, where the majority of the student body is white, marginalized students are often intimidated for their differences. Because children are not “color blind,” both the victim and the perpetrator recognize the motive for bullying on the basis of race. Students often feel ignored and invisible when faculty and school administrations fail to respond effectively to discrimination.

Due to the lack of response from schools, in 2020 there was an uprising in Instagram accounts designed for students to anonymously share stories about the racism they have encountered in school. My school’s account titled “Black at Breck” (@blackatbreck) was inundated with stories of students and teachers discriminating against black students.

This is why affinity groups are so important. They are a key part of what must be racial education in our country. They provide a safe space for students to celebrate their identities while learning about the biases that exist in PWI and America as a whole.

Non-white students will be able to talk about race with like-minded people before having broader conversations with the predominantly white student body. Participation in affinity groups will teach students to love each other for their identity, rather than internalizing any discrimination they face.

Students are only in affinity groups for a small part of the day, ensuring that echo chambers are not created. Affinity groups create a balance between being in a safe space and being in the real world where marginalized students will have to interact with people who don’t share their identities.

Students return to the full school community ready to learn and celebrate the differences of others as well as their own. By understanding and loving their own identity, students will be ready to embrace others.

At my PWI, we have affinity groups from primary school. In my Asian American and Pacific Islander affinity group, I found a safe space where I could talk with people in my community, bond with them, and find high society students to consider. like models. We had conversations about intersectionality, issues specific to our communities, and how to love ourselves for who we are.

I had never felt more connected and empowered at school than when I was with my affinity group.

All students deserve to have this same experience; feel safe and loved in their schools. Predominantly white institutions must have affinity groups for their marginalized students.

Liliana Ahluwalia is a student at Breck School in Golden Valley.

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