There are many great reasons to offer affinity groups for students, faculty, administrators, or support staff, whether they are aimed at fostering a community of support and celebration or to spark critical reflection about how our identities are connected to systemic oppression.
Whatever the goal, here is some advice from Talking Together for Change to help make these endeavors a success:
Affinity group facilitators should be properly trained to run an affinity group.
Successfully running an affinity group is about more than just getting a group of people with a shared identity together to have a conversation. For affinity group members to feel this space and these relationships are ones that support and empower, meetings need objectives, and the space must be designed so that all members have an equal opportunity to contribute.
Training that helps you understand the objectives of affinity group work and how to facilitate these conversations will build your confidence in starting and running an affinity group. It can also provide you with the knowledge to help get administration, faculty, students, and families onside to pave the way for you and others doing this work.
On June 8, Talking Together for Change is running a Change Motivator, 2-hour mixed discussion, for BIPOC and white educators about running affinity groups with students. Register today! This is a great place for you to dive into the topic.
If you are an employee providing support for a student affinity group, you should be recognized and compensated for this valuable work.
It is not appropriate for a school to expect you to do this work for free. You should be paid or offered relief from other duties required of all employees as a form of compensation for your labour.
Affinity groups can offer incredible support to students in their identity development and emotional well-being. They can also build student confidence, making them better advocates for themselves and others in the face of injustice.
Though you likely have a personal investment in supporting students in this way, no compensation = exploitation. Leading affinity groups can only be done by people who also claim an affinity with the identity shared by the group. This means you are unique in being able to provide this kind of support; your experience and know-how should be officially acknowledged through proper compensation.
Thinking practically, it is possible that advocating for compensation may be a barrier to getting an affinity group up and running. If you want to provide this support out of your own goodwill to students or colleagues, that is your prerogative. Once the group is up and running, its value is more demonstrable. Sometimes it is easier to broach the topic of compensation after you have the momentum and are doing the work.
However, it is critical to recognize that it is inappropriate for anyone to ask you to do this work for free, to assume that you will want to do or should do this work because of your identity, to be unwilling to discuss or consider compensation when that topic is raised, or to expect that you should continue this work without compensation if none is offered. If “free” work is not expected of all employees, then it is unjust to expect it of some, even more so if those employees are from marginalized groups in the workplace and society.
Running affinity groups can be challenging work, but it is also extremely rewarding.
When I ran an LGBTQ2S+ affinity group for students, I wasn’t expecting how affirming that work would be for me as a queer teacher in a predominantly straight working environment. The affinity group was the catalyst for me forming close, affirming, connections with other LGBTQ2S+ faculty, relationships I didn’t realize I was missing until I started doing this work in an official capacity. I also experienced a sense of vicarious hopefulness by witnessing how valuable it was for students to see and have close connections with adults in the LGBTQ2S+ community. It meant that students in our affinity group had tangible examples of adult lives lived as out, thriving, successful LGBTQ2S+ adults that were embodied through me and the other faculty members who ran this group.
As a white teacher leading and participating in race-focused affinity groups, I come at these conversations from a dominant perspective, but these are equally empowering experiences. To have the opportunity to think critically about what it means to be white and antiracist, to hold other white teachers and students accountable in this work and be held accountable in my turn, and to use these spaces as a place to reflect on and commit to antiracist action in my personal and professional life replenishes my hope that change is possible in a world where oppression is overwhelmingly still the norm.
Good luck as you get your affinity group up and running!
Looking for support? Start by joining the Change Motivator discussion on June 8 (Running Affinity Groups with Students).