By Maya Johnson '12, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging
Affinity groups are spaces created for people to connect based on shared identities, ideologies, or interests. The creation of these spaces are important in cultivating community and belonging. At Merion Mercy Academy, affinity groups began in 2021. Today, there are several such affinity groups that provide safe spaces for our students. Each group emerged from a need identified by members of that particular group. Students are able to propose additional affinity groups as they see the need for them. These groups meet regularly as part of our school’s club rotation and have faculty moderators to assist in the conversations, education, and overall experience.
These groups differ from other clubs as they are not necessarily tasked with producing programs as much as they are to create safe spaces for people to connect. In talking with Spanish teacher Venecia Peri, a moderator of the LatinX affinity group, and understanding the vision for this group, she stated that she intends to “explore the rich cultural tapestry (of Latin American nations) through discussions, activities, and events, all with the goal of celebrating both our differences and the threads that unite us.”
Five things that affinity spaces do well:
Create safe spaces for authentic connection among group members who share similar backgrounds or experiences
Aid in development of social identity and promote cultural awareness, understanding and appreciation among students
Build resilience and provide emotional support by serving as a platform for students to share their experiences, challenges, and triumphs with peers who understand their unique struggles
Empower members to advocate for their needs
Promote diversity and inclusion by acknowledging and celebrating different identities and cultures. They help foster a more inclusive environment where everyone’s unique perspectives are valued.
Current senior, Catarina Lam answered a few questions about the impact affinity spaces have had on her experience at Merion. Catarina is a member of the Asian student affinity group.
Q: How does the affinity space differ from a school club?
A: Affinity spaces are different from school clubs because clubs typically focus on a certain activity or interest. An affinity space is a safe place for a common identity or social group, and I find that safe place in ASIA.
Q: What has been the best part about joining an affinity space at Merion?
A: The best part about affinity spaces is that everyone, in one way or another, can relate to each other. It's a safe space to talk about our issues and our culture with understanding.
Q: Have you felt more connected to your identity since joining the affinity group?
A: Through parts of my culture that I have brought to ASIA, I definitely have felt more connected. Since COVID-19, my Vietnamese parish stopped performing the yearly lion dance for the Lunar New Year. When I perform at MMA, I can share my culture with my classmates and participate in it once more.
Q: Why do you think affinity groups are important?
A: I think affinity groups are important because you don't always have someone with a similar identity as you. You may have troubles that no one other than someone with a similar identity would understand, and having that safe place and understanding is very important, especially as we develop in our high school career.
Q: What inspired you to join an affinity group?
A: I have always been proud of my culture, and joining ASIA was a no-brainer. I could meet with others who came from a similar background and represent what was really important to me.
Affinity groups have been proven to be helpful and safe spaces for individuals and will continue to be part of the MMA community.