Affinity groups at Riverdale give students an opportunity to discuss and explore their perspectives with a group of people that share a specific identifier. The students support and relate to one another by sharing thoughts and expressing various challenges they may have faced. These identifiers could be race, sexual orientation, religion, and/or gender.
This year the affinity group structure has been changed in an attempt to try and balance the power of the student leaders with the voices of the other group members. Affinity group student leaders are elected by the group and are ultimately approved by the Community Engagement Team (CET). The affinity groups are another leadership opportunity typically reserved for juniors and seniors, but students of any age can play a large role.
In the past, students have had to choose one of their many identifiers to explore in an affinity group format, which disappointed some students who had many identifiers they wanted to discuss. The new changes will hopefully prevent this situation, and will give students a safe and diverse space to discuss all of their identifiers with a group that can relate to their personal experiences. The affinity program takes place in the C* period. Once a student is a part of an affinity group, they will not just be apart of one affinity group, but the entire affinity program. The program involves meetings in which all of the students will come together to discuss topics as one unit. Those large meetings will happen a few times a year, and will typically be run by the CET. They will include all of the 80 students who are taking part in the program this year.
In some weeks, specific affinities will split off and meet on their own, and in other weeks, students will meet with their home group. The new home group which was created this year is a small unit of about 10 students who are pulled from varying affinity groups. The intention of this home group is to give students another space to discuss issues on a more broad level. When talking about the home groups with Mr. Dwight Vidale and Ms. Emily Schorr Lesnick, who are administrators on the Community Engagement Team, Ms. Schorr Lesnick said, “In a home group we could all do an activity about language and what that means, and then each go into your racial affinity group and process that experience too.”
The affinity program will also use some of its periods to move into special affinities for discussion. The CET found that in past years, there were areas in people's identities that were not coming up regularly in affinity meetings. They created this feature this year as another way of having open, specific discussions. Some of these special affinity meetings could be about class, religion, or gender, and students would place themselves in the category where they feel they belong. By doing this, students can talk more openly about their situation within a group who can understand and relate. Both Mr. Vidale and Ms. Schorr Lesnick expressed that in every meeting, it is important that all students use the “I” perspective and only talk about themselves, and their experiences.
Sophomore Sophia Moore is a member of the BSA (Black Student Alliance (BSA)). When speaking of her experience in the affinity program, she said, “Being in an affinity is really fantastic because you feel like you have a voice and you are surrounded by people who understand it.” The objective of the various groups is to not only let students speak openly, but also to create a space where they are surrounded by people in a similar situation. Moore continued to say, “You don't feel like you have to educate people or be the token person of your race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation as a lot of people in Riverdale’s community often feel.”
When continuing to talk with Vidale and Schorr Lesnick about the revamp in general, Schorr Lesnick said, “These changes are another iteration in the hopes of supporting students to bring their whole selves to school.”
Vidale asked, “How do we communicate across differences? And it starts with us. It starts with the individual. It starts with one person saying ‘here is how I identify, here is my location in the world as I know it. Pleasure to meet you. Who are you?’”
The affinity program is a meaningful experience that may open your eyes to perspectives and ideas that you may not have ever considered. The program is continuously being developed with new features and new topics being discussed constantly. Mr. Vidale and Ms. Schorr Lesnick highly recommend that everyone thinks about joining an affinity group this school year.