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Parent Affinity Groups Create Community and Connection


Among the strategic initiatives that received the most positive response this school year was the launch of parent affinity groups. The concept of affinity groups was initiated by Durham Academy Middle School students in 2015, and since then, with the support and collaboration of DA’s Diversity, Equity and Engagement (DEE) team, they have expanded at the request of Upper and Lower School students.

Affinity groups are also available to faculty and staff, and this year, in conjunction with the Parents Association Diversity Committee, the initiative has expanded to include parents and caregivers. Parent affinity groups were launched in fall 2021 and have had opportunities to meet several times since then, most recently at the DEE Spring Engagement Night. We asked the following affinity group members about their experiences this year:

Dan Gilson

White Action and Accountability Group Leader, Foster and Adoptive Parent Affinity Group Leader, Preschool and Middle School Parent, Extended Day Director

Sarwat Husain

Muslim Affinity Group Leader, Upper School Parent, Lower School Teaching Assistant

Neeta Saxena

Asian and Pacific Islander Affinity Group Member, Preschool and Lower School Parent

Charity Watkins

Black Affinity Group Member, Parents Association Diversity Committee Co-Chair, Preschool Parent

Why are DA’s parent affinity groups a priority for you personally?

Watkins: As a Black mother, it's important for me to have an affirming space to not only learn from the experiences of other Black caregivers but to also share celebrations, create meaningful relationships and obtain strategies to ensure our children are thriving.

Gilson: Affinity groups have the ability to offer a unique experience that creates community and promotes positive action and growth.

Saxena: To bring awareness of different cultures to others, including mine.

Husain: They helped me connect with other Muslim families at DA, enabled our children across divisions to meet and get to know each other and, most of all, enabled us to be part of a group that can find meaningful connections with each other. Fortunately for us, this group has started to evolve into a family friends network, too.

How would you describe the need for parent affinity groups at Durham Academy and why now?

Watkins: Although my experience at Durham Academy has been very positive around issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and engagement, we have to acknowledge that this is still a primarily white space. Therefore, there's always the possibility that conscious or unconscious bias can affect how we interact with each other and build community. The affinity groups provide a space for caregivers from minority groups to process those experiences of micro or macroaggressions and then to come together to inform the larger DA community on any harm experienced and proactive ways to prevent it from happening again.

Saxena: Kids of different backgrounds need to feel a sense of belonging with others of similar background and celebrate their traditions also as “normal” instead of feeling like an outcast or the minority.

What have you most enjoyed about your experience this year?

Saxena: Connecting with others who have similar backgrounds and upbringing. Feeling like I belong, also!

Husain: The Muslim Affinity Group [MAG] parents have met on several occasions with families. We have found many connections professionally and also appreciated our cultural differences. We celebrated Ramadan together and met again on Eid day for prayers and a social gathering afterwards. We recently organized a community service project with the MAG students as part of our Ramadan celebration and hope to continue many more such traditions around our faith-based holidays. To find this group through school has been tremendously rewarding for us and for the other families as well.

Watkins: I’ve just appreciated hearing other caregivers discuss how meaningful and affirming these affinity groups have been for them.

Gilson: Meeting others in similar circumstances.

Some people view affinity groups as divisive. How would you counter that narrative, specific to your experience at DA?

Husain: I used to think so, too, until I became one of the members (and faculty facilitators) of an affinity group. I quickly realized that affinity groups can be much more than just an exclusive group — they can be agents of change, platforms for expression and places to connect with others (which normally may not happen otherwise).

Gilson: As a member of an adoptive affinity group, these shared experiences are incredibly valuable and cannot be replicated with folks who are not in this group. Having these affinity groups also helps identify common struggles and how to overcome them, which results in better relationships with those not in your groups. If we don’t recognize, appreciate and celebrate the differences we have (and the unique beauty/struggles that go along with them), we can’t truly appreciate and celebrate one another.

Saxena: I think DA is doing an amazing job with creating various affinity groups and one could join multiple groups that one could relate to.

Watkins: We are all composed of multiple identities, with many of us finding ourselves being a part of minoritized groups more often than the majority. Providing affirming spaces for individuals to process their experiences as members of minoritized groups at DA doesn’t create division; division naturally exists. However, affinity groups promote the development of strategies to bridge across those divides, to find commonalities across differences, and to build a community that acknowledges the strength of diversity.

How do you see parent affinity groups at DA evolving in the future?

Watkins: I see caregiver affinity groups working more closely with faculty/staff and student affinity groups. I also see more opportunities for groups to interact and learn from each other.

Husain: I see parent affinity groups playing an important role in admissions and welcoming new members in our DA community. I also hope that through parent affinity groups we will find resources for parent engagement on campus with the larger student body as well. I am grateful that DA initiated parent affinity groups. While we knew of each other (other Muslim families at DA), we never really had an opportunity to meet each other. Another parent commented “I never knew that there were so many other Muslim families here at DA.” Since most of the Muslim Affinity Group families do not belong to other outside organizations or clubs where we can connect and socialize with each other, affinity groups have created a platform where we can reach out, connect with and work toward common goals. We are happy to have met like-minded families and know that while we are all different, have different backgrounds and ethnic origins, and practice our faith just a little bit differently, we also have many things in common. For our particular affinity group, finding ways to build community amongst our kids and families has also been a valuable and important part of affinity groups. As our children move from Middle to Upper School, they will have stronger bonds with others in this group, and our hope is that they can build a strong identity and representation in the DA community.

Durham Academy Adult Affinity Groups

  • Asian and Pacific Islander Parent/Caregiver
  • Black Parent/Caregiver
  • Foster and Adoptive Parent/Caregiver
  • International Parent/Caregiver
  • Jewish Parent/Caregiver
  • Latinx/Hispanic Parent/Caregiver
  • Multiracial Parent/Caregiver
  • Muslim Parent/Caregiver
  • Parents/Caregivers of LGBTQ+ Students
  • Parents/Caregivers of Students with Food Sensitivities or Allergies
  • Parents/Caregivers of Students with Learning Differences
  • Secular Parent/Caregiver
  • Single Parent/Caregiver
  • White Action and Accountability Parent/Caregiver