Zaara Ahmed, '25
Note: NCS does not have a scheduled affinity group time like STA
I deeply value my time with my affinity groups SAMEU (South Asian Middle Eastern Union) and MSA (Muslim Student Association). Meeting in these groups gives me the opportunity to connect with my peers and share cultural and social aspects of our lives. We share sweet jalebis and spicy samosas, fast and pray together during Ramadan, talk about our families, special holidays like Diwali and Eid, Bollywood movies and “desi” songs, but also about stereotypes and expectations from within our community and around us. Over the weekend, MSA organized a reading time with Afghan refugee children. We read to young children and shared stories and snacks with them. The kids were shy at first but opened up quickly. We ended up laughing together over silly things I not only got a chance to connect with the larger Islamic community and a bunch of adorable kids, but also to bond with my MSA affinity group members. These are invaluable life experiences. These affinities are an abundant source of knowledge, no less than forma conventional book-based education.
Affinity groups are safe spaces based around a shared identity or specific identifier. These identifiers can include but are not limited to race, religion, ability, family structure, socioeconomic status, age, gender, and sexuality. Members share stories, table concerns and cry on each other’s shoulders. More than anything else, they listen to each other. It’s an emotional and psychological space that allows people to be authentic. Affinity bonds us with people whom we share common interests with, helping to build emotional communities. Human beings are social animals, so we tend to have the desire to belong. Identifying with people and feeling that sense of belonging is a key aspect of our identities and sense of self. A strong sense of group identity can provide a buffer when we experience pain, bias or bigotry. These spaces provide an opportunity to discuss prevalent issues and experiences unique to us and find comfort in a community that mirrors aspects of our own identity.
Speaking for myself, I have not had many spaces to unpack that side of my identity apart from casual conversations with friends/family and religious holidays. This sense of camaraderie within the school is unique and not something that happens in many other places. My affinity groups have been very affirming. With growing tensions and division around us, it is important to embrace our differences rather than our colorblindness. Differences matter because they make us unique and they make our community diverse.
I value the time given to affinity groups and alliances as an important aspect of building a community where participants can feel seen and empowered. I am happy that we have one block in our school schedule dedicated to affinities and alliances. I understand the time constraints and difficulties with scheduling due to class, study, ensembles, and assembly periods, but I would love to have more time to spend with my groups.