Remarkable Student Life Experiences
By: Brian Wise, Director of Diversity Planning
Affinity Groups: Why Do They Exist?
Students, parents, and faculty often ask “Why are there affinity groups at Charlotte Country Day School?” The existence of affinity groups at an independent school like ours can sometimes be puzzling to members of our community. The response to the idea of affinity groups has ranged widely from enthusiastic support to skepticism and even tempered opposition. Many are unfamiliar with the ideas and concepts behind the creation of these groups and some will initially regard affinity groups as divisive and contrary to the values of inclusivity and community.
Why are Affinity Groups Necessary?
Simply defined, an affinity group is a group of individuals linked by a shared interest, experience, social identifier, purpose, or goal. These groups can be formal or informal. Affinity groups strengthen our community by providing support, connection, and affirmation to our students and parents whose identities, whether racial, ethnic, or otherwise, may differ from the majority population and culture at Country Day.
Our affinity groups are an important tool for:
- Safety and Comfort to be Authentic: Reducing the sense of isolation, discomfort, and even marginalization many children can feel.
- Identity Affirmation and Socialization: Encouraging students to embrace the different parts of their identity and to feel confident and proud about themselves thereby building resilience (rather than to silently suppress aspects of that identity because it is different from the majority culture).
- Deepen Engagement with Other Groups: Affinity groups help students to feel more visible and more included in our community; thereby increasing their commitment to inclusion and empowering them to engage the broader community more confidently.
Is the Group I Eat Lunch with an Affinity Group?
There are all kinds of affinity groups occurring in all manner of ways. When speaking with students about affinity groups, I often ask: “Who do you eat lunch with most often?” The answer is obvious--they eat with their friends or teammates and the like. When I dig a little deeper, they tell me they eat or hang out with the people they have the most in common with. I get a very similar response when I ask the same question of faculty. Math teachers eat with math teachers, science teachers with science teachers, history teachers with history teachers. And then I share with them they have established an informal affinity group. I say informal, but just try and sit at one of those earmarked lunch tables as a non member...there can be initial awkward tension. Now, I know we are all welcoming and few would refuse to allow someone to sit at the table, but that initial pause is readily felt by “the outsider.” I think we all have experienced this scenario in one form or another, but the point is affinity groups are a natural part of any community. “Affinity groups” we already have include gendered bathrooms, sports teams, the Parents' Association, the Boosters Club, the International Parents groups, faculty/staff rooms, and the casts of school plays.
Affinity groups are a natural part of any community
What about the Formal Affinity Groups?
Looking at affinity groups in a more formal or institutional way includes us examining the role these groups can play in ensuring we fulfill our mission and affirmation of community.
Formal affinity groups at Country Day are a safe and protected environment designed to allow students who share a common, culture/social identifier to come together for nurturing and celebration. Country Day affinity groups provide a “safe space” in which its members can explore issues of shared identity and experience and affirm their emotional and intellectual responses to being part of a distinct subset of the community. There is a sacred value held by all members to create a safe space for everyone and to allow for participants to be an individual within the group itself. As suggested by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, our affinity groups adopt the ABC approach:
- Affirming Identity
- Building Community
- Cultivating Leadership
Our affinity groups provide the opportunity and time for students and parents to integrate personal stories and experiences, enact change, and become leaders of our community.
Affinity Groups at Country Day
- African American Girls
- African American Boys
- You Go Girl
- New: Multiracial Student Group
Affinity groups fall under the umbrella of the Upper School Diversity Awareness Forum which seeks to promote a general respect for people's differences by creating an open-minded environment that embraces all people, ideas, and cultures. We will strive to break all stereotypes and to educate through exposure to communities both outside and within our own.
- Interfaith Club
- El Foro Hispano
- Black Student Union
- Girl Up
- SWAG (Super Women’s Affinity Group)
- PRISSM (Promoting Respect Inclusion and Safety for Sexual Minorities)
- Asian Affinity Group
- International Club
Our most prominent parent affinity groups are the International Parents Groups and POCIS (People of Color in Independent Schools). The International Parents Groups meet regularly to help international parents and students acclimate to life in Charlotte and at Country Day. POCIS supports teachers, administrators, parents, and students who believe that diversity and multiculturalism are endemic to quality education for all. Both of these organizations are invaluable and work to serve and enrich Country Day students and families.
Country Day affinity groups create a positive and constructive context for students to explore and affirm their identities and experiences with the full support of the school leadership. This approach helps to strengthen our community and to cultivate students confident enough in themselves and their place in this community that they can grow into young leaders. As our school has clearly articulated in its mission and affirmation of community statement, Country Day wants to provide a “school culture and climate which allow each member to feel valued and affirmed and thereby promote belonging and foster community ownership;" and “We respect each individual, embrace diversity, and value the relationships uniting us as a school and connecting us with our local and global communities."
I welcome your questions and thoughts about affinity groups, as well as any other aspects of diversity and inclusion work. Please feel free to contact me anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org or (704)943-4535