Matthew Thompson '21 and Seba Calliat '21
In recent years, St. Albans has taken several great strides in regards to diversity and inclusion efforts. With the appointment of a new Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), the establishment of affinity groups, and many statements from the administration, we are on the right track in terms of creating a greater sense of community for minority students. Amidst a cacophony of clashing opinions, affinity groups have given students a safe space to express their culture, ideas, and views. More specifically, in the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other African Americans this past year, the Black affinity group has been a crucial asset for Black students to vent their frustrations and share their concerns.
Prior to their creation, some argued that there wasn’t a need for affinity groups at St. Albans. After all, the Cultural Awareness Organization (CAO) already offered access to multicultural connections. Opposing sentiments also conveyed that dividing the community by ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation would tear it apart. From our standpoint, however, affinity groups have had the opposite effect.
Rather than a source of awareness, affinity groups have offered students a much needed space in which stories and dilemmas concerning shared identities can be openly expressed without fear of judgement. As an opportunity for individuals across grades to connect, which is particularly lacking during remote learning, the Black affinity group has served as a setting for underclassmen to ask upperclassmen for advice on unique challenges that African American students at St. Albans routinely face.
The heightened amount of discussions relating to racial injustices in America in conjunction with the introduction of affinity groups has led to the discovery of an interesting “phenomenon” at St. Albans: the school-wide “Black friend group” that has developed over the last few years. For whatever reason, this occurrence has been dubbed as taboo and has quietly been named an awkward or uncomfortable topic of conversation at our school. However, this article is a good opportunity to finally address the whirlwind of rumors and silent microaggressions that come with being a part of this conglomeration of African American students.
Firstly, it’s important to outline that just because someone is Black at St. Albans does not automatically make them a part of this friend group. In fact, the larger friend group as a whole is made up of much smaller, form-based peer groups that have been friends for many years. Last year, however, due to a recognition of our shared experiences at STA, a natural bond formed between a large group of Black students. This resulted in the eventual union of the aforementioned grade-based friend groups into a larger, school-wide friend group, something almost unheard of at St. Albans. This noticeable amalgamation of Black students speaks to STA’s unique necessity for affinity groups. Furthermore, the apparent sense of uneasiness and uncomfortability that is felt when a large group of Black students enters an area further highlights the necessity for affinity groups where Black students can meet to discuss the racist undertones and microaggressions present on campus. But why is it that almost all of the Black students who make up the friend group agree on the presence of this feeling of uneasiness coming from other students when entering a shared space? Is it due to a school-wide internalization of negative stereotypes regarding Black males or a feeling of tension when slang terms are used audibly and unapologetically?
The answer to questions like these concerning this topic exemplifies just the tip of the iceberg for why the introduction of affinity groups as safe spaces at St. Albans is so deeply meaningful to so many students. Additionally, one disclaimer is that other students should not be scared or pack their stuff up and leave; this does no good because it only serves to ignore the issues that plague the St. Albans community, such as this discomfort that some students demonstrate when Black boys gather in one place. Additionally, students should also be mindful about exhibiting forms of offensive behavior on the other end of the spectrum, such as flashing gang signs and changing their voice to sound more “Black”.