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The Latest EMS News · 18 March 2022

Celebrating Our Differences

Graphic showing various people with speech bubbles

The launch of affinity groups brings families together

By Laura Adams Stiansen; originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of “Apple Tree Magazine”

In January, our school announced the launch of affinity groups for parents and caregivers. These identity-specific groups allow participants to explore, affirm, nurture, and learn about lived experiences based on a shared identity.

These spaces are intended to recognize differences in family experiences while celebrating our shared commitment to DEIB — diversity, equity, inclusivity, and — most importantly — belonging.

To give structure to our emerging affinity groups program, EMS has engaged consultants Dr. Sandra “Chap” Chapman of Chap Equity and Jason Craige Harris of JCH Consulting, both of whom hold leadership positions at the Perception Institute.

“Affinity groups offer opportunities for people to learn about their many intersecting identities and to gain support and strategies for navigating daily identity-related challenges,” says Dr. Chapman. “No identity is a monolith, meaning that even members of the same or similar racial group can and will have distinctly different experiences. Affinity groups allow for the diversity within a racial group to be voiced and celebrated.”

“School communities that launch and nurture affinity groups offer opportunities for learning and discussing matters related to the identity of the group in a safe environment where people who share that identity can generate fellowship; build a greater understanding of their identity in relation to others (both from their group and outside of their group), and discuss collective strategies to contribute to an equitable organization where everyone belongs,” adds Dr. Chapman.

Recently, our Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, and Belonging Phoebe Search, Head of School Dr. Marek Beck, and Associate Head of School and the Director of the Arts Amelia Gold, along with Craige Harris, held a design session with leaders from the Parents Association and its DEI committee to outline the goals of the groups. The goals included:

  • Each affinity group for parents/caregivers will meet once a month on a different day of the week, so that people can attend more than one group with which they self-identify, without competition.
  • Each group will be facilitated by at least one person who would agree to facilitate for one academic year.
  • All facilitators of affinity groups will meet together at regular intervals for training, reflection, and planning.
  • All participants in affinity groups should be invited to two to three gatherings across the academic year where they can explore the intersections of their identities and experiences. This kind of “intersections” meeting would foster greater community and learning across identities.

Following that meeting, a workshop entitled “Children’s Development of Difference,” led by Dr. Chapman, highlighted research supporting the notion that babies as young as 6 months old begin to notice basic differences that grow and evolve as cognitive and social development continues. In addition, Dr. Chapman provided strategies and support for families looking to enter into challenging conversations with their children. During “Benefits of Affinity Groups” in February, Dr. Chapman facilitated a discussion exploring ways affinity groups can enrich our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world around us, as well as our responsibility for it.

For the 2021–2022 school year, affinity groups will meet in March and April, with participants being invited to an “intersections” meeting in May for a year-end reflection and dialogue.

“Our goal will remain consistent throughout the process, from rollout through the momentum that we know will build through this exciting initiative,” says Search. “By recognizing, naming, and celebrating our full selves, we will bring more of what makes us the EMS of now and tomorrow.”

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