Affinity Group Resource Page

Affinity Group Resource Page

For Independent Schools Interested in Starting Affinity Groups...


Below is a description of the comprehensive "launch" of affinity groups at Seattle Girls' School.  Please note the following about the process described below:

   1. This process evolved out of 3-4 years of experimentation, responses, follow-up, re-strategy, mistakes, and lessons learned.
   2. Seattle Girls' School was founded on a mission that specifically called for anti-bias work.  Because of this factor, the school culture, climate, admissions, hiring, professional development, and more have "primed" the school constituencies to be more accepting and understanding of affinity group work.  The process described below is NOT a "shake and bake" formula for affinity groups for all schools.  Schools must assess their own mission, climate, readiness, need, and more and determine AT WHAT LEVEL and HOW they need to launch affinity groups to be successful. 
   3. Whenever possible, as many of the school's constituencies must be involved in the planning and envisioning of the affinity group process.
   4. Though the process described below may not be an exact fit, it is informative in terms of considerations, tools, verbiage, and more.
 
Seattle Girls' School Anti-Bias Mission
   Anti-Bias is the process of conscious engagement around issues of difference and oppression, arising from reflection, and resulting in action.
   Conscious engagement is an active process in which we notice and focus attention on an issue.  It usually involves talking and listening to others about the issue and may require us to question our initial assumptions.
   Difference is a term often used to speak to the more specific, cultural and individual ways in which we walk through the world and make meaning of the world.  
   Oppression is broader and more socially specific than difference.  The concept of oppression comes out of historically specific categories of discrimination and marginalization, including: ability; age; national origin; race/ethnicity; sexual orientation; gender; and class. 
   Action is the result of the conscious engagement and reflection.  Action creates change. The existence of the school demonstrates the greatest commitment to social change.   Within this laboratory, wide-ranging actions occur from tolerance in day-to-day interaction, to formal anti-bias discussions.

Seattle Girls' School Timeline
   1. Faculty and Staff engage in discussion about affinity groups to gain or reattain shared understanding (during August, when SGS holds all-school Faculty/Staff professional development sessions before students arrive)
   2. Affinity/Alliance leaders identified - some volunteer, and some volunteers are requested for groups for which students have expressed a desire.  If there are no faculty/staff who represent that group, volunteers are sought from the parent and mentor population.  See "Potential Affinity Groups" section.(August/early September)
   3. Meeting among leaders (who need or want to) to chat about what to include in group description, ask questions, learn about leading affinity groups.  See "Possible Training for Affinity Group Leaders". (early September)
   4. Each Affinity/Alliance group leader writes a description of the affinity group on goals, reasons, etc. for his/her group.  This information is shared with parents and students in a variety of forums: announcements, emails, and mailings.  See "Sample Description" section. (mid September)
   5. A schedule is created in such a way that only one group meets at a given time.  This way, no student has to "choose an identity", and he/she can participate in as many groups as he/she wants (mid-September)
   6. Head of School sends communication home about Affinity/Alliance Groups at SGS.  This letter explains why we have affinity groups, how they benefit students, and why they are important to the school.  The letter also contains our definition of affinity groups, alliances, and shared interest groups.  Attached to the letter are all the descriptions of the various groups.  See "Language from Head of School" section. (mid to late September)
   7. Meeting among leaders (who need or want to) to brainstorm station for “Affinity/Alliance fair” (mid to late September)
   8. During an all-school special assembly, we have an Affinity/Alliance Fair (late September to early October).  The assembly has two segments:
        1 hour    Who’s in the Room?  Claiming Our Identities through Up-Downs Activity (click here to download exercise)
        1 hour    Affinity/Alliance Fair.  Students have a college-fair-like opportunity to visit with with affinity group leaders.  They can discover what various groups exist here at SGS, explore whether the group might be for them or not, and meet group leaders and students who have been part of the group.  Students who don’t have groups they are curious about can go to the alternate activity room.  In the alternate activity room, non-affinity group leaders facilitate a viewing and discussion of a short movie exploring identity (My People Are), as well as a interactive exercise on Who Am I and Who We Are.
    9. Affinity group meetings start according to the monthly schedule (early October)

Potential Affinity Groups
   Racial/Ethnic Affinity Groups.  At SGS we have African American/African/Black, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino/a, Multiracial, and White.  The White Affinity Group meets in two constituencies.  The 5th/6th Grade group really focuses on celebrating lost ethnic heritage and learning about what white means.  The 7th/8th group really focuses on white privilege and allyship to people of color.
   Gender and Sexuality Affinity and Alliance Groups.  At SGS, we call this group Alphabet Affinity and Alphabet Alliance.  We started with an alliance group and then had sessions that were for specific constituencies.  For example, there might be a day specifically for students whose parents identify as LGBTQ.  Another day might be for students who identify as LGBTQ or are questioning their sexual orientation.  These days are held as needs of the group are identified.  Due to the demand for affinity space for kids who identified as LGBTQ, we started a separate affinity group.
   Religious Affinity Groups.  At SGS, we have a Jewish Affinity Group.  This group might be considered an ethnic group, because much of their discussion can be about cultural practices.  However, meanings of specific holidays and significance of these to Jewish values are discussed, so we classify it as a religious affinity group.
   Family Structure Affinity Groups.  At SGS, we have the Adoption Affinity Group and the Banana Splits Group (divorced families, single parent families, guardians, etc.).
   Gender Affinity Groups.  Being an all-girls school, SGS does not have these.  However, we are starting to explore ideas around what it would be to have, say, a Gender Non-Conforming Affinity Group, since people's experiences in the world can be very different depending on whether they conform to society's rules about gender roles and gender expression.
   Cross-Cultural Alliances.  At SGS, before we had the age-split White Affinity Group, we had the Multicultural Club.  This group served white students who are enthusiastic to make connections across cultures, do not belong in any of the affinity groups, and do not have the background necessary to know what a white ally is.  This was also a space for students from marginalized identities who are relatively secure and happy in their own racial/ethnic/group identity and are looking to share with and learn from a diverse peer group. This group disbanded when we realized a) the split white affinity group served the needs of the former group, and b) the latter group was getting their needs met in their everyday lunch interactions.
   Socioeconomic Groups.  We do not have these at SGS.  This group gets tricky, because schools in general want to have class information be anonymous.  However, we know that, particularly in Independent Schools, socioeconomics play a powerful role in student experience, particularly for students on financial aid.

Other Considerations for Affinity Groups at SGS

   1. All groups have shared ground rules.  See “Sample Ground Rules” section.
   2. We schedule Affinity/Alliance lunches regularly once a month (e.g. Multiracial Affinity Group meets every third Thursday of the month)
   3. No Affinity/Alliance lunch coincides with another to avoid kids having to “choose” an identity.
   4. Though the goals/format of each Affinity/Alliance group may be different to serve the needs of each group, there are opportunities for the group to “share out” with the larger community through presentations, learning modules, etc.
   5. There are goals to have meaningful collaborations between the Affinity/Alliance groups to network with one another and learn about each other.
   6. There is administrative support when conflicts about Affinity/Alliance groups arise.  See “Issues that May Arise”.

Possible Training for Affinity Group Leaders
(Ideally, for all Faculty and Staff for Shared Understanding)

   1. Brief theory/study background about why affinity spaces are good for kids. 
        Nais Presentation on Affinity Groups (click to download)
        AISNE Literature - From Assimilation to Inclusion (click to download)
   2. Knowledge of basic demographics about our school population.
   3. Sharing of successful strategies by veteran affinity group leaders.  Successful affinity groups have, among others, the following characteristics:
        a. Affinity leaders have a good background understanding of the group's identity development stages.  See "Resources" for identity development theories.
        b. Affinity leaders have a good understanding of common microaggressions and experiences of the identity group.
        c. The space is most focused on group pride.
        d. When discussions of obstacles arise, there is a focus on advocacy skills to address the obstacles.  For example, groups may address productive ways to interrupt comments that are offensive, how to identify allies, or how to bring issues up with the school.

   4. Discussion of obstacles and opportunities:
        a.
How to address fears and resistance.  See "Resources" for answers to common statements of resistance to affinity groups.
        b. How to advocate for students if issues arise.  For example, how might they bring up an issue with fellow faculty and staff if it comes to light that they are perpetrating microaggressions toward kids in the group?  What are the channels to go to if advocacy is not producing changes in behavior?
        c. How to use films and activities to enhance discussions and educate around the group identity. 
        d. How to
field questions from parents or community members.


Sample Description of Affinity Groups

A Word About Asians and Pacific Islander Affinity Lunches
 
The Asians and Pacific Islanders (API) Affinity Lunch meets the second and fourth Mondays of every month.  We meet to get to know each other and share stories about our experiences, hobbies, cultures and more. We sometimes have a cultural share element, as several of our students who identify as Asians and Pacific Islanders are either from bi/multiracial families or have been adopted trans-racially.  Some of us know deeply our cultural and historical ancestries, and some of us do not.  The culture share element allows us an opportunity to either celebrate and share our knowledge or get to know our ancestral background.  The API lunch is a great way for students who share experiences based on their racial identity and cultural background to find support and camaraderie with one another.  The lunch also provides an opportunity for students to further explore their own identity.
 
Furthermore, the “Asian and Pacific Islander race” as often defined in American society includes a vast variety of peoples (East Asians from China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Tibet, etc.; Southeast Asians from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, etc.; South Asians from as India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc.; and Pacific Islanders from Hawaii, Fiji, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Polynesia, Samoa, etc.).  This makes for a very confusing “clumping” together that happens in the US, despite our vast differences in ancestral national origin, cultures, histories, and experiences in American society.  Our gathering together allows us to realize and celebrate these differences as well as experience solidarity and support for our shared experiences as people who are defined as belonging to a same race.
 
API community members are welcome to come in with questions or discuss their experiences here at school and in the world beyond.  Members are also welcome to bring in cultural dishes, cultural games, wear traditional clothing, etc.   These are wonderful opportunities for you to support your student by helping her cook meals, learn games, discover places where she can access her ancestral culture, etc.  Celebration and solidarity of identity can extend homeward, too, and we encourage parents and guardians to be a part of that learning and joy!
 
Rosetta Eun Ryong Lee                                                            Christine Haeyoung Lessard
rlee@seattlegirlsschool.org                                                      clessard@seattlegirlsschool.org
                                Co-Facilitators, Asian and Pacific Islander Affinity Group

Sample Ground Rules
   1.   What goes on in the group must stay in the group. When appropriate, leader(s) will act as advocates for the group to help bring about change for those in the group
   2.   Don’t put down other races.  Don’t label other races as “others”
   3.   No side talking – respect the speaker
   4.   No interrupting
   5.   Be supportive
   6.   Respect those not in the room by not using names when talking about other people
   7.   Give everyone a chance to talk
   8.   Stay on topic of discussion
   9.   Don’t put words in other people’s mouths
   10.       In this safe space, every question is a good question

Issues that May Arise
At SGS, affinity groups evolved out of the fact that we have an anti-bias mission and wanted to incorporate as many aspects of anti-bias work as possible.  Almost all reaction has been positive, enthusiastic, and supportive.  Negativity has traditionally arisen from three populations:
    1. White adoptive parents of students of color who, at the base level, fear that we are somehow breeding resentment and they will “lose” their daughters.  To offset this resistance, we reassure them about the nature of the affinity space (focus on self-pride rather than other-resentment) and also share information and research about transracial adoptees that tell us that racial identity development is crucial.  See "Resources" for article and research on transracial adoptees.
    2. White students who feel “left out” or "excluded".  The most powerful tool we have to offset this resistance is a white affinity group.  Students who don't want to participate in this group and yet want admission into other affinity groups are guided in discussions about privilege and allyship.
   3. White parents of white students who think that affinity groups are divisive and wonder “why can’t we stress sameness instead of differences”?  To offset this resistance, we share research and articles about the experiences of students of color in Independent Schools, as well as research on why colorblindness and stressing similarities has no effect on racial attitudes.  See "Resources" for articles and research.

Language from Head of School
Sample letters for introducing affinity groups, responding to questions about the reasons for affinity groups, and responding to resistance to affinity groups.  The last two are no longer needed at SGS, as the full launch and training has addressed most questions and resistance.  They are included here for ideas on how leadership can further support affinity groups if necessary.

Initial Introduction:
  As we get our schedules rolling here at school the girls have been hearing about special lunch meetings called "Affinity Groups". During Affinity Group lunches, students of a certain affinity join together and eat apart from the rest of the school. Affinity Group lunches are designed for students to develop and strengthen their own racial/ethnic/group identity rather than as a time to learn about others. The qualitative difference between affinity group work and other aspects of school is that safety and trust must be fostered, expected, and assured by each member to explore shared racial/ethnic/group identity development. (Borrowed from National Association of Independent Schools People Of Color Conference)

The term affinity group is used as a bringing together of people who have an identifier in common, e.g. race, gender, religion, family status, etc. Affinity groups are for individuals who identify as members of the group and can speak to the experience of being a member of the group from the “I” perspective. This year we will have the Soul Sistas (African-American), the Asian Pacific Islanders, the Multi-Racial, the White, and the Latino/Latina Affinity Group meetings.

The term alliance group is used as a bringing together of people who have a common commitment to an identifier group, e.g. race, gender, religion, family status, etc. Alliance groups are for individuals who identify as members of the group and/or as people who support and stand in solidarity with that group. This year, we will have the Adoption Alliance and the Alphabet Alliance (LBGTQ people and their allies).

The term interest group is used as a bringing together of people who want to learn about, share, and engage in a special interest, e.g. hobby, skill, topic, etc. Interest groups are for individuals who want to gather to teach, learn, and share. Membership can be fluid and changing. SIGS are developed year to year
(Last year, we had Art SIG, Harry Potter SIG, Go SIG, Writing SIG etc.).  Students who are interested in staring a SIG can seek an adult sponsor, and that sponsor will find days and spaces for the group to meet.

Descriptions for all groups that meet at SGS are included in this letter. Please look over these and discuss with your girls whether they might be interested in participating. Announcements are made the week each group is meeting with details as to time and place. Your girls are welcome to join any of the groups to which they belong. However, these groups are completely optional, and students can decide on a week by week basis if they want to go or not.


Follow-Up after Questions Arose:

In the next week, students will be able to participate in Affinity Group lunches (lunchtime meetings a couple of times a month for students who identify themselves a certain way).  This practice began several years ago, initially as a request from some of our students of color, but it has since grown to include a number of groups.  While initially it may seem counter-intuitive at a school that stresses anti-bias work and inclusiveness, it is in reality an important piece of this work.  We have found it is important to recognize that different groups within SGS may need room to find fellowship and kindred spirits to continue fuel their drive to be a part of a truly diverse community.  Diverse schools often offer “affinity groups” for families and students for these very reasons.

One way to commit to anti-bias work and to create a more multi-cultural environment is to permit people to feel safe and strong and reflected within their environment as they begin to do the hard and sometimes uncomfortable work of stepping out of their comfort zones and into the broader world.  We have created groups in response to the requests we have heard from the students themselves and by ensuring that we have a leader from the faculty/staff who can reflect the named affinity and facilitate the group.

Attending an affinity lunch is completely optional, and important that it is so. Our goal is for everyone to feel as though they have a safe and comfortable spot. Through continued education efforts at all levels, we will grow together as community in our understanding of each other and the work it takes to be a diverse and welcoming community.

But part of this journey is not developing “colorblindness.” Difference matters. While many of us (especially those from more dominant cultures, or privileged backgrounds) try to see past the differences, the unintended effect of this is to deny others’ experiences rather than acknowledge them, see them, and become an ally through understanding rather than ignorance. Students who attend the White Affinity Group have had conversations about becoming an ally, even when they have found themselves in situations where they may not be in the majority. It is a valuable discussion to have and continue having when your student is ready.

Some of this work is uncomfortable—no question.  We will be working with all the students throughout the remainder of the year on developing skills and working with issues of oppression in a variety of forms. This is a journey and there is no quick, easy, or right resolution.

For parents, we hope to offer some ways to help you with your own journey—eventually we want to offer some programs here at school. We will also continue to send home flyers and announcements of wonderful opportunities for training here in the Seattle area as we become aware of them.

Follow-Up After Some Resistance
“When we realize that we can see difference in a way that recognizes and acknowledges worth,
 we discover a new path to multiracial and multicultural understanding”
—Colleen Larson and Carlos Ovando, The Color Of Bureaucracy
 
I get lots of questions about anti-bias work here at SGS.  Why spend so much time on our differences? Why have separate Affinity Groups?  Why not say the differences don’t matter, can’t we just get along?  In fact, for a long time, from my perspective, I asked these same questions….
 
But then through a series of experiences I began to notice something—difference matters. Why was it that my White daughter could find her hair products in any store in any neighborhood we have ever visited, but my Black daughter couldn’t?  How is it that Rosetta’s route to Harvard and my route to Harvard were so radically different, we ended up in the same place, yet we are not always treated the same?  As much as I wanted to adopt a “color-blind”, “difference-blind” stand (and I could since I was coming to it all from a position of privilege which yields power), I was in fact negating anyone who had  an experience or background different from me—in fact I was de-valuing their journey and history by doing so.
 
I spoke to the girls at Community Meeting this week about some of the questions and remarks I have heard over the course of the year as we do our anti-bias programs, and anti-bias work in the classroom. I realize that while we are bringing the kids along, the messages we try and send are not always the ones received (what parent doesn’t know this one!).

While I understand what drives the desire for universalism and “equity through neutrality,” in fact the end result is the silencing of the needs, concerns, and experiences of the marginalized members of our community.  We don’t want any of our children, or their families to feel they have to “check any part of themselves at the door” and not feel the joy of being seen and appreciated for their authentic selves. Some of us may be uncomfortable as a result, but we are working towards becoming a community where it is safe to be yourself and know that you are welcome.
 
In a world of differences, if we can learn to value and acknowledge them first, then we can honor them and focus on the commonalities that lie beyond. It’s a two step process, and as much as I would love to skip step one, to do so would be doing a disservice to anyone and everyone, including me.


Variations on Affinity Groups at Other Schools
    -Some schools have a "Students of Color" group rather than separate affinity groups.
    -Some schools have family affinity groups as well as student groups.
    -Some schools have a block period designated several times a year for affinity groups. During this block, ALL students participate in affinity groups. However, there are multiple groups - along with identities, there are groups for interests and hobbies as well. Students can attend the same group each time the block sessions are offered, try different groups every time, or do a combination.
    -Some schools call groups affinity groups but don't operate as groups for only members of the group (i.e. anyone and everyone can come).  In SGS terms, they would be alliances.

    

Resources

Identity Development Theories
Cross' African American ID Model
Helms' White ID Model
Kim's Asian American ID Model
Palmer's Transracial Adoptee ID Model
P P Root's Multiracial ID Framework
Ruiz's Latino ID Model
Wilson Indigenous Two Spirit ID Non Model
Race and Ethnicity Comparison
Phinney's Ethnic ID Model
Considerations in Gender Identity Development

Cass' Model of LGB Identity Development
D'Augelli's Model of LGB Identity Development

Transracial Adoption
Evan B Donaldson Institute Study on Transracially Adopted Asians
NAIS Independent School Magazine on Transracially Adopted Asians
Somewhere Between - 2012 Film about the experiences of four transracially adopted Chinese girls

Why Talking About Difference Matters
Article on Psychological Experience of Students of Color in Independent Schools
Article on Research Showing the Importance of Talking About Race (Rather Than Colorblindness)
AWARE-LA's White Anti-Racist Culture Building Toolkit

Miscellaneous Resources


Affinity Group FAQ - Some helpful answers to the most commonly asked questions from folks who are concerned about affinity groups.
NAIS Independent School Magazine Article on Affinity Groups - Great article summarizing the need for affinity groups in independent schools
Racial Identity and Social Interactions - How identity development can appear in interactions, particularly between a teacher and student
Ethnic Identity Development and Schools
- How a student's identity development can affect his/her energy and psyche in schools
Identity Development for Educators and Schools
- Various ways to bring identity development work into the school
Identity Case Studies - Case studies that show how identity development can appear in schools
Growing as an Ally - Resource for students and adults who wish to be better allies to those who have less power and privilege

Lisa Delpit's Book, Other People's Children - Book analyzing ways teachers can be better “cultural transmitters” in the classroom
Oyserman, Harrison, and Bybee's Article on Racial Identity and Academic Success - study looking at the correlation of healthy racial identity and success in schools
Oyserman, Et Al, Article on Racial-Ethnic Schemas - study identifying different ways children identify, which orientations lead to disengagement, and which orientations lead to engagement.
Diversity Work in Independent Schools: The Practice and the Practitioner - handbook published by NAIS to help independent schools do meaningful and transformative work
Caucus Groups - Exercise you can do in affinity groups
   
Affinity Groups Outside Independent Schools
Affinity Groups in the Workplace - Descriptions of what affinity groups do for companies and organizations like Eli Lily, Ford Motors, and the Central Intelligence Agency
Syracuse University's Affinity Group Page - Describes how Syracuse University approaches affinity groups.
Network News Article on Affinity Networks - Network of Executive Women make the case for why affinity groups and how to start them up in companies.
Profound Gentlemen - Network for Black male educators - support, advice, encouragement, and more!
Paying Attention to White Culture and Privilege: A Missing Link to Advancing Racial Equity - Strategies that foundations can use to advance internal equity/diversity work strategically and institutionally.  One such strategy is racial identity caucusing.
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