'Affinity' with MS Principal, Ana Fox Chaney

Even in a progressive, inclusive environment like ours, students with marginalized identities have experiences that can be isolating and silencing. Sometimes, students naturally form their own informal affinity groups, sitting together in classes or in the cafeteria, gathering at recess. Students need spaces to be among others who share an identity; it gives them the opportunity to take a break from having to explain or monitor what they say, to share experiences (“I noticed that too!”) and strategize (“What do you say when…”). When teachers and the school take an active role in supporting these groups, it sends the message that this is a valuable and healthy part of nurturing a diverse community.
We have many affinity groups active in the middle school now, including: Students of Color Group (SOC), The Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), The Black Student Union (BSU), The Adoption Group (TAG), Banana Splits (for students with divorced or separated parents), Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Group, Multiracial/Multiethnic Biracial/Biethnic Student Group, and Latinx. 

At our last middle school parent rep meeting, I invited facilitators of these groups to talk about why affinity spaces are important for them and for their students. They all talked about how clear the desire for these groups are among students: they give up lunch and recess or come early in the morning. Some of the power of the group, several facilitators said, is not in addressing issues around identity directly, but simply being in a room full of people who share that slice of their experience, to be one of many and not the odd one out. At the same time, other facilitators talked about the importance of talking explicitly about what it means to have that identity at LREI; to acknowledge the discomforts and draw strength and advice from each other. 

The number of affinity groups has grown over the past several years, a combination of student and faculty interest, and an increasing level of peer support and understanding. In part this understanding has built over time due to assemblies organized by some of these affinity groups. These assemblies are both a celebration and a vehicle for students to express collectively some of the challenges of their experience at LREI. In this way they affirm their identity, push back on silence and bring their friends and classmates in as allies. One such assembly is coming up next week: our Black History Month Assembly. In last year’s assembly’s closing remarks, a student said, “Black history did not begin with slavery and it did not end when the Obamas left the White House. We are sure we will see another black man or woman in the White House during our lives… We are real, we are woke, we see you and we want you to see us!” 

Beverly Daniel Tatum, author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race, said in an interview with the Atlantic in September,  “Regardless of your group membership, the questions of identity are at the heart of the adolescent experience. ... Each group has its own particular social context … but at the fundamental core of each young person's [identity development] is a desire for affirmation.” We continue in the middle school at LREI, to create a community where all students feel seen and more - where are all students are seen. 

Ana Fox Chaney
Middle School Principa