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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

Affinity Spaces

Last week, before classes began for the semester, we gathered as an entire staffulty to explore the idea of affinity spaces in schools—not just for students, but for everyone in the community. In a workshop co-led by Dr. Mary Antón, Principal of Learning*Leading*Becoming Equity Coaching, and Interim Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Dot Kowal, we discussed how campus affinity groups can be an essential tool for establishing an anti-racist school culture. 

While you may not yet be familiar with the term “affinity space,” you are likely familiar with the concept. An affinity space is a place where a group of people united by a shared interest or identifying marker can gather, often voluntarily. In our discussion last week, our primary focus was the role of racial affinity spaces in schools. During the second half of the workshop, we broke up into affinity spaces for BIPOC (black, indigeneous, and people of color) staffulty, LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexed, agender, asexual, ally) and Gender Non-conforming staffulty, and white anti-racist discussion. (While an LGBTQIA+ and Gender Non-conforming staffulty space is not a racial affinity space, while we were trying out the idea of affinity spaces, it was important to include a space for our LGBTQIA+ and Gender Non-conforming staffulty members.)

Creating racial affinity spaces at a school can sometimes feel like a risk, or even counterintuitive to some of us who were raised with the idea that it was best to be “colorblind.” Establishing groups based on racial identities can even look like segregation to some folks who grew up with the idea that it’s best for people to be in a “melting pot” where race is not visible. But in recent years, the importance of affinity spaces for both BIPOC and white antiracist community members has become more widely acknowledged. 

In BIPOC affinity spaces, participants have the space and safety to unpack issues of internalized oppression and racial trauma, while also discussing what they need from white institutions. White antiracist affinity spaces can be profoundly helpful for white people as they grapple with their privilege and white identity and commit to actionable change. Affinity spaces help schools continue antiracist work outside of the context of one-off trainings and assemblies, ensuring that the process is ongoing and evolving over time. 

Our LGBTQIA+ and Gender Non-conforming students have had an affinity space for several years now, the well-established and active QSA group. Over the last year, students have been in the process of creating new optional affinity spaces for our BIPOC students. Last week’s workshop was one of the first times we have created affinity spaces specifically for the adults in our community, and in the post-program feedback, many staffulty members expressed a desire for more time in these groups. We look forward to building meaningful spaces for all of our community members to work together toward the goal of creating a more equitable, antiracist school culture. 
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