Arts & Culture

Keep it Real; The Role of Affinity Spaces at Crystal

By: Sarina D. (’19)

Most of us are familiar with the term alliance group, and have seen or participated in some form of this specialized type of community through organizations such as the Gender Sexuality Alliance or a culture club.  In the past few decades, alliance groups have been normalized in American high schools and communities, and are becoming increasingly prevalent and diversified across the board. Crystal is no exception. Our campus is home to a variety of alliance groups, from GSA to Asian Culture Club to French Club, and we utilize these spaces to bring together people with a common commitment to an identifier group, e.g race, gender, religion, family status. In essence, an alliance group is a place for members of said group and people who support and stand in solidarity with that group to advocate for its benefits.

But most of us are less familiar with the term affinity space.  Keep it Real is a pioneering club on campus that is bringing this term to center stage as the first student-led affinity space club at Crystal.

So what is an affinity space? And how is it different than an alliance group and other clubs on campus? We at Gryphon Gazette sought to answer these questions in an effort to understand the necessity for this new type of organization and the goals and objectives of Keep it Real.

The term affinity group is used as a bringing together of people who have something important in common, e.g. race, gender, profession, or special interests. Crystal is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), which has worked to support affinity spaces for several years. According to NAIS the expressed goal of affinity spaces is “to provide a safe space for all participants to identify salient issues and common concerns through dialogue, using our individual voices to bring about affirmation, fellowship, connection (networking), and empowerment.”

Keep it Real is an affinity space for students who self-identify as underrepresented students of color. According to Ms. Wade, Keep it Real, “Provides an opportunity for students to be in a space where they share an aspect of their identity that is often in the minority and experience that aspect of identity from the perspective of being in the majority”. Students who participate in the affinity space are less likely to see their racial identity reflected in school curriculum, on their campus, and even in the media.  As African American and Hispanic students are minorities on our campus, Keep it Real is targeted to students of these racial identities. The club allows these students to speak openly about their experiences as minority students of color academically, financially, and socially.  Other goals include affirmation and celebration of racial identity, building resilience and community, and promoting ideas for action. Keep it Real aims to empower students of these racial minorities and provide them with a sense of community and belonging on a campus at which an aspect of their identity is not common among other students. In other words, affinity spaces strive to help students fully feel as though they are members of the Crystal community.

This week, we had the pleasure of speaking with club leaders and members Rachel ‘18, Tatiana ‘18, Nico ‘20, Joe ‘19, Amara ‘20 and Jolaiya ‘21, to learn more about how the club started, why they decided to limit membership, and what their goals for the future are.  

Each member had a different story of what led them to create or participate in Keep it Real. For Rachel 18’, it was a longing to find a strong community to talk about different personal issues facing race and financial status, and a desire to leave a big impact on the school in her senior year. Joe was inspired by A Better Chance Scholars, a college tour designated to assist traditionally disenfranchised students in the independent school application process. He hoped to emulate the environment of this organization through Keep it Real. On the other hand, freshman Jolaiya joined the club in hopes of finding a safe space in a new school in which she could share her experiences as an underrepresented minority without feeling judged or uncomfortable. “When I was looking at schools for ninth grade, all of the other schools which I was considering had Black Student Unions. Crystal did not and this was actually one aspect which concerned me,” she told us. She soon found the community she was looking for in Keep it Real, and has even had a chance to feel comfortable speaking and sharing her opinions and learn more about her culture. Amara ‘20 told us that the club was her attempt to, foster inclusion by allowing underrepresented minority groups to be able to talk openly about their experiences whereas within a larger group…often our experiences get pushed away or are met with microaggression or white guilt–just different forms of silencing”. Tatiana ‘18 hoped to find a space where she could discuss with people who are able to understand her experiences that her friends of majority races sometimes cannot, and Nico ‘20 was inspired by the spirit and advocacy of the Student Diversity Leadership Conference.

During meetings, club members participate in a variety of activities. Amara ‘20 told us, “During periods we have a more relaxed environment and sometimes plan things. A lot of the beginning of the year was dedicated to creating mission statements and explaining ourselves. Now we relax a bit more and do a lot of fun club things like watching a TV show and eating and talking.”

When asked about personal experiences that inspired club members to create an affinity space, members chimed in with a variety of moments and experiences of marginalization, stereotyping that led them to want an affinity space to share and analyze aspects of their lives and communities with students of the same racial identity. In terms of stereotyping members shared experiences of being asked “If I play basketball and if my favorite foods were watermelon and fried chicken.” In addition to stereotyping, the members shared with us painful moments such as “Telling me that the reason I got in [to Crystal] was because I am black,” and “Being told I’m not a real Hispanic because I don’t look traditionally Latino.” The issues expanded beyond the social sphere, however, as members expressed feelings of marginalization financially and academically. These experiences included, “Students not understanding why we are unable to go out to eat for financial reasons,” and  “Having things assumed about us based on us being students of color, like being on financial aid”. While having different hair might seem like a trivial difference to students of majority races,  one club members told us that her hair is what often sets her apart from her classmates and accentuates her racial difference. She told us, “people will touch my hair because it is ‘exotic’ without asking.” Members even disclosed that they often feel as though they have to speak on behalf of their racial group or explain aspects of their communities and lifestyles that are misunderstood or confused by white people. One member stated, “We discuss getting tired of having to explain the difference between typically “ghetto” environments, like: Redwood City vs. Oakland.”

Members explained that Keep it Real is a closed affinity space, or an affinity space in which membership is limited to students who self-identity as underrepresented students of color.  This aspect of the club is a result of a desire to provide members with a space in which they can feel safe and their most authentic selves. According to members, “Because we are underrepresented students of color, we feel excluded in many different ways at Crystal (as the aforementioned examples). By creating a closed affinity group for the underrepresented students of color, where they can discuss shared experiences, we feel more included, therefore, Crystal then becomes a more inclusive community”. Another member added, “It is not as though we have a vendetta against white people, it’s more just us focusing on issues that affect us.”

That said, to assure that students who do not identify as underrepresented students of color have an opportunity to listen and hear from their peers, club members instituted “Big Time Snack Time,” a monthly meeting in which these students are invited to come and observe the club and the discussion. “Big Time Snack Time allows us to have more serious discussions about microaggressive comments made by students around campus,” Amara explained. Club members told us that during Big Time Snack Time, the club discusses specific social challenges to club members, raising money for other underrepresented populations, and education preparation in order to provide as much information as possible for the Crystal community. Recently, students who do not identify as underrepresented minorities have also been invited to also participate in the discussion.

Going forward, club members hope to educate Crystal students further as to why the closed affinity space is necessary in the development of a more inclusive Crystal, and continue to provide a space for underrepresented students of color where they can discuss issues specific to their lives so that they feel more included. Future goals also include networking with other schools and organizations to create some sort of Bay Area Affinity Network, and hosting schoolwide or community events.

Overall, Keep it Real may be the first student-led affinity space at Crystal, but it has become a successful club that is paving the way for future students to found affinity spaces based on underrepresented aspects of identity. Ultimately, the club has prompted further discussion of social inequality and signals a shift towards normalizing critical examinations of the social stratification of our community and advocating for change.


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