Skip To Main Content

Mobile Navigation

Affinity Groups FAQs

Q. What are affinity groups?

An “affinity group” is a space for people who share a similar identity to come together for reflection, dialogue and support. Ninth  grade is a type of affinity group structured around age. 

Members of the group may have a common identity, but it does not mean that everyone has had the same experiences. Rather, participants recognize that their identity has an effect on the way they move through the world and that exploring that effect together helps to create an inclusive and thriving community. Because the group is designed for people who self-identify with the given common identity, they are not meant for outsider observation. However, the work done in affinity groups ultimately helps to strengthen the connections within the school community. 

Q. Aren’t affinity groups just another type of exclusion? Isn’t this model divisive when we should all be working together?

Affinity groups focus on positive identity development, providing opportunities for students and adults to better understand how their identity shapes their worldview and experience. With that deeper self-knowledge, community members are then in a better position to understand and empathize with the experiences of others. However, it is important to note that affinity groups do not take the place of cross-cultural dialogue. Instead, they exist as one of the many complementary modes of communication that take place in a thriving diverse community. Research from educational institutions demonstrates that affinity groups are an important aid to all the other work we do––they help to create space for understanding across differences, allowing everyone to work and learn together in a more equitable way. 

Q. What exactly happens in affinity groups?

Students and adults (administrators, faculty and staff, parents/guardians) in school affinity groups share and reflect on their experiences, and on the fact that those experiences are shaped by their own identity development. They also support one another in addressing issues that arise for members of their self-identified community. An adult and student facilitator guides this process by setting community norms, providing an agenda, asking discussion questions, and promoting the active involvement of all participants in the group. Neither the school nor the adult/student facilitators record or take notes during affinity group meetings. 

Q. Why do we have white affinity groups?

Affinity group work is not meant solely for historically marginalized communities. Research has shown that when all students, including those from privileged communities, purposefully examine that privilege, their critical thinking skills and empathic abilities improve––in short, affinity work makes people smarter and better. Affinity group work also helps lay the foundation for all students to serve as allies in the fight for equity. 

Q. Why does an affinity group feel so different from classes or clubs?

Affinity groups will look, sound and feel different from academic or extracurricular work. In affinity groups, we focus less on acquiring expertise, and more on the practice of unpacking our identity and participating in cross-cultural dialogue. At times, it will feel more open-ended and more personal than other activities; affinity groups will even feel different from one identifier to the next. But we will all be doing the work that’s right for us. Affinity groups are designed to play a supportive role in the lives of the students and adults. They are not to be mistaken for the more prescriptive work performed by members of our student support team. 

Q. When does affinity group work start?

Research has shown that, by the age of three, children are aware of and intellectually active around the differences they see in their world. Even at this early developmental stage, they are eager to classify and sort different types of blocks, animals, colors, people, etc. In particular, they are already aware of the difference in how people are perceived and treated based on skin tone in our society. 
Therefore, to ensure that their awareness of difference does not turn into a perception of surplus or deficit, it is crucial to connect them positively to their own identity, and in doing so to make them more aware of the identities of others. For these reasons, some schools begin affinity group work starting in kindergarten while others begin in middle school. 

Our children’s ability to challenge prejudice and ignorance is only as strong as the tools we give them. When educators and other adults do not help children develop positive cultural identities, then peers and media exposure will fill that space. We know that the personal exploration and resulting confidence that students develop in affinity groups are essential to supporting children who will grow into happy, self-reliant and healthy young adults. 

Q. Whom should I contact with further questions?

John Gentile, Calhoun's Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, is available to answer questions and to provide further information. 

Q: How can I learn more?

Here are some resources and articles to help you learn more about affinity groups:

Identity, Affinity, Reality - Julie Parson and Kimberly Ridley, Independent School Magazine 

Making Space - Affinity Groups Offer a Platform for Voices Often Relegated to the Margins, Monita K. Bell, Teaching Tolerance 

How a White Affinity Group Can Help - Ali Michael and Mary C. Conger, Perspectives on Urban Education 

Affinity Group Resources - Rosetta Lee, Seattle Girls' School