by Ben McKinley, Upper School student equity program coordinator/math teacher
Students at Lakeside Upper School have the option of participating in affinity groups — a gathering of people who share an identity – and alliance groups — a gathering of people who identify as members of a group and/or for people who support and stand in solidarity with that group. The number of affinity and alliance groups at the Upper School has grown in recent decades to include the Black Student Union (BSU); the Gay, Lesbian, or Whatever alliance group (GLOW); the Lakeside Asian-Pacific Students affinity group (LAPS); the Multicultural Initiators eXperiencing and Encouraging Diversity (MIxED), an affinity group for students who identify as multiracial; the Native American Student Alliance (NASA); and Sí Se Puede, an affinity group for Latinx students. In fall 2019, the number of affinity and alliance groups jumped by 50% with the addition of three new groups: the South Asian Affinity Group (SAAG), an Interfaith and Spirituality affinity group, and an anti-racist student alliance group.
While the Upper School affinity and alliance groups have faculty/staff advisors, they are led by students. Dynamic and creative student leadership is essential for groups to be productive and successful. The groups meet during activity periods, and starting in the 2019-2020 school year, there are four dedicated activity periods just for affinity and alliance groups, during which no clubs or other activities can convene. The hope is to increase this number to at least one dedicated meeting per month in future years.
The affinity and alliance groups serve multiple purposes. A central purpose is providing support for students who share a common identity. At many independent schools, students of underrepresented groups are frequently isolated in classroom settings where they are the only member with a particular identity in the room. Research shows that, in these circumstances, the space and opportunity provided by affinity and alliance groups for connection and engagement with peers is critical to developing a positive sense of identity and belonging.
Other goals of the affinity and alliance groups are education, community building, and just plain fun. Some of the ways the groups educate and share with the entire school community are the week of listening, dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ experiences and supporting our LGBTQ community; the Martin Luther King Jr. assembly; the Lunar New Year assembly; film festivals; and Student Sponsored Day activities.
A focus for all of the groups in the fall is the Fall Festival fundraiser. This community event gives the groups, and especially their leadership, a chance to collaborate. The revenue from the Fall Festival provides the affinity and alliance groups the opportunity to enjoy bonding activities such as trips to the International District, a “Lock-In,” going to movies, enjoying cultural events in town, and hosting speakers.
We encourage you to learn more about our affinity and alliance program! Feel free to reach out to me or any member of our equity and inclusion team. Affinity and alliance groups also take place at the Middle School and through the Parents and Guardians Association (check out their FAQ about the parent/guardian affinity group program).
Ben McKinley is the Upper School student equity program coordinator. You can reach him, and all members of the equity and inclusion team, at firstname.lastname@example.org.