Introducing Affinity Spaces on Campus
When my fellow students and I arrived on campus for the 2020-2021 school year, we noticed a small piece of paper taped to our desks. “Identity as LGBT+? Scan the Q(UEE)R code below!” it read, featuring a scannable code printed under a pastel rainbow graphic. I, along with a heaping handful of other students, obliged. This code led us to a confidential sign-up for the LGBTQIA+ affinity group.
This year, eight affinity groups have been rolled out, including those for students who identify as Asian, multiracial, Black, Latinx, and transgender. These groups aim to provide a close-knit and confidential community for students with shared identities to gather, celebrate, and support each other. The LGBTQIA+ affinity group is no different. Meetings are never in the same place twice: while this protects students attending from the possibility of being outed to their peers or faculty outside of the group, it also makes us feel like we’re a part of a top-secret society. No matter where these meetings take place, however, they are always filled with laughter, snacks, and an overwhelming sense of support. Whether it is trying out a new name and set of pronouns, asking for advice on how to come out, or finally telling someone about your partner, having a safe space at school to encourage queer joy is invigorating.
“The affinity groups are supportive environments that allow students to be their most authentic selves,” says Alexandra Patterson, one of the faculty leaders of the LGBTQIA+ group and a member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. “They’re for students to share experiences with others who understand what they are going through.”
This trust in other students helps to cultivate the confidence in community and great faith that stands as one of Mercersburg’s core values. For me and my peers in the group, that sense of belonging and trust is refreshing and much needed. Not only can the meetings be fun, with tie-dye nights and LGBTQIA+ movie showings, but they’re also productive. At the moment, we’re generating ideas on how the school can celebrate Pride Month in May and June and helping policy committees form queer-inclusive community norms. Other affinity spaces are also tackling challenging projects, with the Asian group creating curriculum for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May and the International group having conversations about what it means to be attending Mercersburg virtually.
Students are encouraged to join an affinity group that aligns with any of their identities—or to talk to the interim director of diversity, equity, and inclusion to start a group for an identity that needs support! I can personally vouch for how the support from the affinity groups makes it easier for me to be myself on campus and identity trusted faculty to talk to if I’m having trouble. To anyone incoming or to those who haven’t done so already, don’t be afraid to scan the Q(UEE)R code and find a space that feels right for you!
Mel Cort '23, of Brookeville, MD, is a spring 2021 communications intern with Mercersburg's Office of Strategic Marketing and Communications.