Affinity: Let’s Bring Cultural Learning to the Broader Community

Recruitment for AAA, the Asian-American affinity group, in the fall of 2019. Photo courtesy of Hanako Walker.

Affinity groups are a powerful way to bring people together through culturally rich, insightful, and engrossing dialogues. From sharing traditional recipes to celebrating favorite cultural tunes to diving deep into identity-related current events, these groups create special opportunities for GDS students to connect with peers who share an aspect of their identity. As seniors and co-leads of our own respective affinity groups—HOLA for Hispanic students and Fusion for multiracial students—we believe that affinity groups have the potential to enrich not only their members but also the entire GDS community. 

Every affinity group has two student co-heads and at least one faculty advisor, who all participate in the Student Affinity Leadership Committee on their group’s behalf. The objective of these groups is to unite similarly identifying students and foster a safe place for students to connect and engage with each other.  With about 15 affinity groups in total, a large fraction of the high school student body participates in at least one, and an even larger share would be eligible.

While GDS’ defined structure successfully allows members to interact with people who relate to their experiences, we believe its structural framework is also limiting. For example, why are only Hispanic students discussing the lack of Hispanic representation in the GDS curriculum? Why is the celebration of delicious Asian foods limited to AAA participants? Why is the Black Student Union the only group learning from students about Black culture and tradition? 

Affinity group members have so much collective wisdom and so many personal experiences they can share. Yet, with the school’s traditional affinity group structure at play, these insightful perspectives are confined to a specific crowd of students. We believe that everyone can and should benefit from taking part in those conversations and hearing those stories.  

That’s why we’re creating Affinity, a new Augur Bit Opinions column that amplifies minority voices at GDS. Whether it takes the form of a personal take on a current event, lessons from an experience at GDS, a cultural tradition, or any other identity-related opinion, this column seeks to highlight and inform rich conversations among students that have previously been largely limited to affinity groups. 

As we think about expanding the role of affinity groups, our minds revert to last year. During the pandemic, we have been challenged to grapple with the multitude of inequalities ingrained in the American system—from disparities in COVID deaths to police brutality. Witnessing the ensuing protest movements and social media campaigns—which were supported and strengthened by people of all identities—made us realize the importance of understanding each other’s struggles while celebrating our cultures.

We must immerse ourselves in the culture of our peers and examine how our own experiences intersect with others’. If white people hear about the Hispanic student experience, Asian students engage with the LGBTQ+ experience, Young Women of Color learn about Jewish customs and traditions and so on, then slowly we will construct a stronger community and an anti-racist high school that is educated, engaged and compassionate. 

These ideas and goals are far from new to GDS. GDS’ philosophy has long been dedicated to educating every student on the unique identities of their peers. Those core values are integrated into a GDS education as early as the lower school, where students take part in community-wide assemblies about LGBTQ pride, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Passover and Christmas, regardless of their own identity.  

The GDS website’s page about diversity, equity, and inclusion states, “Most affinity groups at GDS are open to allies—individuals who may not share the affinity group’s specific identity but who otherwise share an interest in it.” In fact, high school affinity groups are not open to all students and we believe that should remain the case. At the same time, the broader community should be able to engage in the conversations and learning that happen in affinity groups.  

To start those conversations, we need not only writers but also readers. Regardless of your race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender, we invite you to engage with Affinity with an open, curious attitude. We are excited to welcome you into this effort and can’t wait to see how this column evolves! Please reach out to us or Augur Bit editors if you would like to write for Affinity or have any questions.

Yael Wellisch ’22 and Emi Bailey ’22

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