What is an affinity space?
The term "affinity space" is used to denote a space set aside for people who have something important in common, e.g. minority status, race, gender, profession, or special interests. Why is Millbrook School in support of affinity spaces?
Millbrook believes affinity gatherings for minority groups are worthwhile for many reasons. Some of them are:
- finding a safe space
- realizing you are not alone in your experiences
- identifying issues, whether emerging or longstanding
- sharing successes (and low-points)
- promoting ideas for action
- providing guidance and support for difficult and courageous conversations, both inside and outside the space
- preparing for deep and honest cross-cultural dialogue with people who might seem different
- providing opportunities for affirmation and celebration
What are Millbrook's affinity groups?
Millbrook's affinity groups meet on designated Friday evenings and include:
- Asian/Pacific Islander
- Black and African-American
- Multi- and Bi-racial
- South Asian
Affinity spaces promote unity within the larger group.
These spaces do so by creating a safe forum and firm footing for individuals to discuss issues or difficulties particular to their identity as a minority with people who are able to understand because of a shared experience. With that solid ground underfoot, participants can more readily bridge gaps within the community at large without second-guessing themselves, creating a greater and more authentic sense of unity.
Affinity spaces are an important part of the unifying process because we follow certain protocols of personal respect when we gather. For example:
- We avoid generalizing about or disparaging other identities
- We focus our comments on our personal experience and perspective We avoid speaking for others or trying to put words in others' mouths
- Even as we share our experiences, we do not identify people who are not present in the conversation
- We agree to treat our conversations with confidentiality to protect vulnerability
- Perhaps most importantly, our discussions are aimed towards promoting constructive dialogue and other positive interactions across group boundaries.
By centering on positivity and support, we aim to promote cohesiveness and understanding within the community at large by giving voice to students who may feel unknown and unheard.But shouldn't we all be colorblind? Race is just a social construct, after all.
Well, yes and no. Ideally, we would assign no greater bias, presumption of worth, or estimate of social value to race than we do to shoe size or whether people have attached or detached earlobes. In operating as a society, this is not always the case, although things are improving over time. Even if race is a social construct, the consequences of its construction are very real. Ironically enough, those who might be able to be "colorblind" might miss important aspects of others' identities in the process. Why should minorities get affinity spaces but the majority doesn't? It's not fair.
It just so happens we do have a majority affinity group comprising White students working towards anti-bigotry. This is because there are indeed members of the majority group who also want to promote community-wide unity, cohesion, and cross-cultural dialogue.
Providing this particular space gives people the opportunity to explore ideas, ask questions, and raise issues that they might not feel comfortable pursuing in a larger context because of a desire to tread lightly and with sensitivity.
Of course, the obvious danger of a majority affinity space would arise if the purpose of the group were to reinforce the majority's power to subjugate minorities, to entertain ideas of racial superiority, or to negate the validity of minority concerns.
People often feel most safe, comfortable, known, and needed when first grappling with the tough discussions if they are among a group of people with whom they culturally identify. With work, these spaces could ultimately transfer that sense of safety and comfort to the larger group as a whole. Affinity groups are all about creating a platform for further steps toward unity, understanding, appreciation, and ever-greater respect.