Affinity Groups at The School

Zack Mintz and Leah Stuart

During a typical thursday lunch, you may walk into a variety of rooms (Mr. Scott’s, Dr. Bradley’s or Ms. V’s) to find India club hosting a club meeting. India club meetings are often centered around discussion about culture, Indian centered organizations, and relevant topics surrounding being Indian-American.

Q: What is your name and grade, and what do you identify as?

A: My name is Anjali Dhawan, I am in 11th grade and I identify as an Indian in the Head-Royce Community.

Q: Are you in ___ (why or why not)?

A: I am in India Club, and am leading the club this year. It has been a great group of students that have gotten together and created a safe space for discussions and to talk about an issues we see fit.

Q: What are your favorite things about India Club ?

A: I think my favorite thing about India Club is that even though we are a small group of students, we still find a way to have meaningful discussions. Along with these discussions, it is great to be able to host events throughout the school to share our culture with the community and be a presence throughout the year. In the club, there is a balance of students who identify as Indian and those who do not, and I think this is something I like about the club as it bring different perspectives to issues centralized on a specific race, which always calls for interesting discussions.

Q: How many people belong to India Club?

A: In India Club there are around 10 students and Ms. V as our faculty advisor as well as a strong leader of the club.

Q: What are India Club’s goals, both long and short term?

A: India Club’s short term goals for the year have been to get more involved in the community, something we were able to do with our Diwali and Holi presentations for both the lower and middle schoolers. Our long term goal is to be an expanding affinity group and to be have a stronger presence at school. Another goal of ours is to form better relations with other affinity groups and to collaborate together for events to spread the love we all have for our specific group.

Q: What has been your experience at head royce?

A: At Head-Royce, my experience for a long time has been to hide my culture and I never really found a safe way to be open about it. I do think once I reached high school and found out that India Club was a thing, I jumped to the idea of being able to have a safe space that I can go to talk and share my problems. I think this affinity group during my freshman year was what really got me comfortable to share and express my culture. It is something I still struggle with today, but there are always new obstacles we face at school and what matters most is that I have a group of people I can always turn to for help.

Q: What is your opinion of affinity groups at head royce?

A: Affinity groups are not-but should be-highly recognized in the Head Royce community, especially because of its ability to make students comfortable with talking and sharing their ideas and feelings without being silenced in the a classroom. Some of the larger affinity groups have a larger presence in the community and I do think the rest of our affinity groups are trying to get out in the community and have us be known as well. There are many dedicated individuals trying to better the inclusion and diversity at the school through their work with their affinity groups and it is important to recognize the work and efforts we all put in to have functioning clubs that are a safe place, but a place where we lean into discomfort at times to have meaningful discussion.

Q: Why do you think people go or don’t go to affinity group meetings?

A: I think people do not go to affinity groups for a variety of reasons. One may be that they are not comfortable with that specific group setting. They might also be embarrassed with sharing their ideas on certain topics pertaining to their identity, and it is hard to get people to come out to these clubs.

Q: Why do people join affinity groups with which they don’t identify?

A: I think people join affinity groups that they don’t identify with because it gives them new perspectives to different things in the world. I think they also join the club because it is something they want to be a part of and have an outlet to share their ideas, which might differ from the rest of the group.

Q: What are affinity groups’ spaces and funds, and are they adequate?

A: We make our own funds and it gets us through the year. We usually end up contributing some of our personal money to have the club function, and we are managing our own money. For spaces, we see what room is available in the beginning of the year and what day no clubs are using it, and we claim it as our own.

Q: Why are some Affinity groups shrinking?

A: I think they are shrinking because underclassmen are nervous about joining these groups because it can be intimidating. Upperclassmen do lose interest in going to a club that takes up time from their lunches. Also, it is a possibility that students are not always open to the idea of sharing that aspect of their lives with others and that can affect their participation.

Over the course of a few weeks, I, Zack Mintz, spent time with the affinity groups in the Upper School. Specifically, I met with India Club, Asia Club, Black Student Union (BSU), and Latinos Unidos. Since this project focuses on race, we felt it was necessary to explore how these groups function.

       Based on what I heard, there are a few reasons why students choose not to attend affinity groups. One reason is a lack of knowledge about what affinity groups are and are for. While some students view affinity groups as just a place for support, they in reality offer much more. When I walked into each meeting, it was like entering a new community. I saw members of separate grades who I had never seen interact laughing and joking with one another like close friends. The dynamic between teacher and student blurred; if not for the difference in age, one could have assumed each club’s’ members were homologous based on how they treated one another.

       Many students in the Upper School have the notion that affinity groups exist solely for those who identify with the clubs. This belief is reflected in the demographics of each group’s members; it is rare to find students in meetings who don’t identify racially with the club (although there is crossover for students in these groups who attend multiple affinity groups). While these clubs do function as safe spaces to address and discuss issues and incidents, both personal and general, that affect or have affected members, there is much to be learned by going to these meetings. A huge part of what holds these clubs together is culture. Each club has its own foods, customs, and events that anyone can enjoy regardless of their race.

       I never participated in affinity groups during my four years at the School, and I regret that I didn’t. Though I am Jewish, I was not interested in J-Club because I “didn’t think I needed it,” it being support i.e. the only thing I thought affinity groups offered. Looking back, I could have used the time with other Jews. I have faced a relatively small but significant amount of anti-semitism throughout middle and high school, and I think I could have benefitted from attending J-Club’s meetings, at least a little bit. Moreover, I wish I had gone to other clubs. Each affinity group is so well-knit and intellectual. They discuss real issues and function not too dissimilarly from classes. Instead of expressing individual concerns, students who attend clubs with which they don’t identify can learn in depth about a culture different from theirs and empathize with its members when appropriate and possible. I encourage students who do not go to affinity groups to go to at least one meeting; it’s worth one lunch period, and you just might really enjoy it.