By Martín Villagra-Riquelme ‘20
At St. Albans, we preach brotherhood and community above anything else, and while there is a lot of value in these ideals, community can turn into conformity if we don’t have discussions about diversity. While in recent years we have made a lot of progress to be a more inclusive school with effort being put into bringing students in from different backgrounds, there is still work we can do. One of the biggest and most powerful things we can do as a school to cultivate diversity is to establish affinity groups.
By not acknowledging or discussing difference, we become colorblind. While color-blindness seems like the answer, and people who preach it have good intentions, institutionalizing it means you ignore and invalidate parts of someone’s identity and make talking about diversity taboo. Even if it’s unintentional, a colorblind institution can create a baseline image of the average student and those who don’t match it can feel alienated. Speaking from my own experience as a gay latino, I feel this alienation, this distance between myself and this baseline image of what the average student should be: straight and white. By establishing affinity groups, however, we can start to dismantle this baseline image and students from minority groups can have a place to voice their perspectives on diversity and discuss their thoughts on issues that affect them with the rest of the student body.
No matter much we push for the similarities between each student, we are all different;
affinity groups validate the differences between each person by hosting those who want a platform to speak about their own unique experiences. They are also a place where people that are somehow “different” from the majority of the population can let their guard down because they’re surrounded by others who are “different” in the same way.
To put affinity groups in other terms, let’s say you have a group of theatre kids who are in a school that’s majority sports-oriented. These kids might feel alienated in this environment and would probably want to have a theatre group, something like Thespian’s Society. Let’s also say this school is trying to be more inclusive and admitting more theatre kids, but they’re not allowing or haven’t taken the steps yet to start a theatre group. The students push for this but no matter how hard they try some say it might make divisions in the student body and harm the community. See how ridiculous this is? Now change the terms theatre and sports to minority and white.
One of the best things about affinity groups is that they’re not targeted to affect the community of the school. If anything, affinity groups strengthen our bonds with each other, as they aim to dismantle conformity. By acknowledging and discussing differences in students, we can get back to talking about similarities again.