New and Lesser Known Affinities

By McKenna B.
Photos by Ronni H.
Artwork by Jadyn L., Elisa D., Zaynab E.

“Affinities have always provided students with a place where they can belong. That’s extremely important right now because there are a lot of things, especially in politics, that tell minorities that they don’t belong in a ‘perfect version of our country,’ and that’s not all right. We need to show young people there are spaces where they belong, and there are spaces where they are not the ‘other’; they are one of many,” Oona L. ‘19, the senior head of Student Voices, explained. At Westridge, affinities fall under the domain of Student Voices, one of three student leadership groups in the Upper School. By definition, an affinity group is “a group of people linked by a common interest or purpose.” Westridge’s Upper School currently has a total of 20 affinities, and new ones are being created every year. At their core, “[affinities] are smaller communities within our larger community,” as said by Anelise P. ‘20, a member of student voices. On our campus, affinities are at the center of campus life, but there are several about which the student body doesn’t know. This article spotlights Affected By Addiction, Coexist, Every Body, Filipino Affinity, Mental Health Affinity, Non-Traditional Households, Self Love for Survivors, South Asian Affinity, and Voices of Ability.

Affected by Addiction

Heads: Annie L, '19 & Sophia M., '19

Affected by Addiction was co-founded by Annie L. ‘19 and Corah F. ‘18 during the 2017-2018 school year. The current heads are Annie L. ’19 and Sophie M. ‘19. The affinity is for anyone who has or has had a family member or close friend struggle with addiction. 44% of High School students in the US know someone with a current or past drug addiction. According to Annie, she and Corah are “connected through similar situations with [their] families and addiction, so [they] thought it would be good to make a safe place for people to come together.” While the affinity’s focus is providing a support network, it also facilitates conversations about addiction and how it affects high school students. According to Annie and Sophie, Affected by Addiction has succeeded in providing a place for its members to be with people who are going through something similar to them without fear of judgment.

Coexist

Heads: Zara A., '19, Micaela M., '19, Amy S., '19

Coexist was founded in the 2015-2016 school year by Zoya A. ‘18. The current heads are Zara A. ‘19, Micaela M. ‘19 and Amy S. ‘19. The affinity was created in part because Zoya saw Christian Affinity and Jewish Affinity and wanted a space for students, like her, who were religious but not represented. Coexist is for religious minorities including, but not limited to, Muslims, Quakers, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, and Hindus. Whether you are a religious minority on a global scale or just within the Westridge community, Coexist provides a space for students to not only be with other people who have had similar experiences and struggles, but also to have conversations about their religion that they cannot have with the larger student body. Zara said, “It’s hard to find people you can talk to them, and they can say ‘Oh yeah, I totally get it!’ Whether it is about a hate crime or something rude someone said about someone else’s religion, you have a safe place to talk with one another and to learn more about each other too.” According to both the founder and the 2018-2019 co-heads, Coexist provides a unique opportunity for the narratives of students of religious minorities to be heard and understood.

Every Body

Heads: Jane A., '19 & Lauren B., '19

Every Body Affinity was founded in the 2018-2019 school year by Jane A. ‘19 and Lauren B. ‘19. According to Jane, this affinity “creates a non-judgemental and confidential space for students struggling with eating disorders, body dysphoria, general body-image issues, and self-love.” The affinity takes the time to talk about “body positivity and inclusiveness, self-care, and coping mechanisms” and still “provides a space to address heavier subjects related to what students may be going through. For example, if they are getting help for something serious or trying to overcome unhealthy behaviors.” Jane and Lauren started the affinity because they felt as though they could finally admit that they, and students on our campus, have had to deal with eating disorders and body image issues. Jane said that she is happy about the significant increase in the number of new affinities, and she thinks it’s because “students are becoming more confident and empowered in their identities.” She continues, “Westridge students seem to be really motivated and conscientious this year about minority recognition and celebration. We are acknowledging the beauty, complexity, and sometimes painful realities in having a variety of identities.”

Filipino

Heads: Danielle D., '21 & Zelia M., '21

Filipino Affinity was founded in the 2018-2019 school year by Danielle D., ‘21, and Zelia M., ‘21. This affinity is for any high-school student at Westridge with Filipino heritage to give them the opportunity to gather with other students who share their ethnic background. According to Danielle, “In the meetings of Asian and Pacific Islander Affinity, [Zelia and I] felt that there weren’t enough of us non-East Asians to make something different. We didn’t really identify as much with the Asian community as a whole and wanted to be a part of something where we could delve into our own culture.” She continues, “I think because Asia is so big in general, it was really hard to connect all the different cultures coming from Asia. I think we just saw a need for a Filipino Affinity.” Both Danielle and Zelia felt that there was so much to their own culture that people didn’t know and didn’t understand, like food, customs, etc., so they decided to make their own space on campus not only dedicated to educating the student body about their culture but also to have somewhere to be with others who understood their experiences.

Mental Health

Heads: Sam J., '19

Mental Health Affinity was co-founded in the 2016-2017 school year by Emma S. ‘18 and Amanda M. ‘17. The current head is Sam J. ‘19. This affinity is for any student with a mental condition and provides a space where those students can get together and discuss their own experiences relating to their mental health and how it affects their experience at Westridge. According to Sam, the affinity began because “there was a lot of talk about loving yourself and loving your body, but we also [wanted to think] about your mind. Your mind is also a part of your body, and you’ve got to take care of that as well.” According to both Sam and Emma, as a society, we are becoming more and more open about the things about us which are labeled “socially unacceptable.” We are challenging the ideas themselves of what is and what is not “socially acceptable.” According to Sam, Mental Health affinity is a manifestation of that movement on our very own campus.

Non-Traditional Households

Heads: Jane A., '19, Ava H., '20, Beatrix Z., '19

Non-Traditional Households was founded in the 2016-2017 school year by Jane H. ‘18. This affinity is currently co-headed by Jane A. ‘19, Ava H. ‘20, and Beatrix Z. ‘19. According to Jane, “This affinity is all about creating an open-minded common space for students who come from non-traditional households— and that definition is really flexible and open. NTH [Non-Traditional Households] is for people who don’t have the conventional family situation. An NTH might mean that your parents are divorced, or that your parents are gay, or you family fosters kids, or you’re adopted, or your parents were never married, and you have no idea who your dad is, or your mother died, or you have a ton of step-siblings, or your little brother is on the autism spectrum. It’s very inclusive.” A lot of people aren’t clear on what it means to be a part of a non-traditional household, but despite this, the affinity is said to be one of the largest on our campus. According to Ava, Beatrix, and Jane, anyone can be a part of a non-traditional household; it has no correlation with race, sexuality, or economic status. Non-Traditional Households provides a space for a variety of students to be with others who, in one way or another, understand their situations.

Self Love for Survivors

Heads: Hattie B., '20 & Zia S., '19

Self Love for Survivors was founded in the middle of the 2017-2018 school year by Hattie B. ‘20 and Zia S. ‘19. After receiving pushback from the administration, however, they decided to work over the summer to create a set of guidelines that would “satisfy everyone’s needs,” according to Zia. The reason for this pushback was the administration was unsure about the legality of an affinity for survivors of sexual assault and the connotations of it on our campus. Self Love for Survivors is an affinity for “survivors of power imbalances that have some sort of sexual connotations. However, we really do welcome anyone who identifies with the term. All types of survivor-hood are valid, and we strive to be a welcoming and nonjudgmental affinity for those who identify. ” Zia explained to me that she and Hattie “really leave it up to members to self-identify with [their] group because [they] don’t want to define who [the members] are. [They] think that a big part of this affinity is people self-identifying and really defining themselves after their experiences as opposed to letting their experiences define them.” The concept of the affinity was inspired largely by the #MeToo movement as it gained power in 2018. To both Zia and Hattie, this affinity seemed particularly important because of the fact that Westridge is, by name, an all-girls school. Over 90% of sexual assault victims are women, and women under 18 make up a significant part of that percentage. They wanted to have “something to be there for survivors when there are so many at this school, and [their experiences] shouldn’t go unacknowledged, and it shouldn’t go without support,” Zia finishes. As an affinity, they often put aside time for self-care along with discussing relevant topics relating to power imbalances. While Self Love for Survivors is not a support group by any definition, both Zia and Hattie want the affinity to be chance for “people to make connections with others who have similar experiences and engage alongside them in varying activities.”

South Asian

Heads: Shania B., '21 & Sophia H., '21

South Asian Affinity was founded in the 2018-2019 school year by Shania B. ‘21 and Sophia H. ‘21. This affinity is for students with South Asian heritage, which includes but is not limited to students who are Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Afghan, Bengali, and Bhutanese. Westridge has an Asian and Pacific Islander Affinity, as well as a Chinese Affinity, a Korean affinity, and a Japanese affinity, so Sophia and Shania both saw a need for South Asian representation in the scheme of affinities due in part to the significant cultural differences between East Asia and South Asia. According to Shania, the affinity is a “good space to talk about things, whether it’s a Bollywood movie you saw or ‘I went to the grocery store and had this food, and it was great’ - any of that, or hearing white people pronounce Chicken Tikka Masala wrong. It’s nice to have a space every other week to talk about that.” Sophia later explains, “In South Asian culture, especially within families, women’s voices tend to be smothered.” She says, considering that, it’s really powerful for her and the other South Asian women at this school to have a space where they are heard. According to Sophia, Shania, and the various members of South Asian affinity, they are happy to finally have this place to be with other people who understand their cultural background and experiences when it contradicts that of the majority of Westridge’s student body.

Voices of Ability

Heads: Megan G., '19 & Amy S., 19

Voices of Ability was founded in the 2015-2016 school year, and the co-founders were Elliot S. ‘17, Emma B. ‘17, and Emma K. ‘17. The current heads are Megan G ‘19 and Amy S. ‘19. Voices of Ability is for any student with a physical or mental disability, which is generally classified by any student who falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, but it can be taken case by case. Amy says, “While we are not currently too involved with the campus as a whole, we are striving to be.” The affinity works with Peer to Peer on Love Your Body Week and Love Your Mind Week and form relationships with Every Body, Mental Health, and Affected By Addiction Affinities. They are planning mini-events coordinating with Midterms, AP Testing, Finals, and the stress that goes along with them. According to Amy, Voices of Ability strives to “provide a space for its members to talk about anything,” but specifically things that act as hindrances (teachers who aren’t accommodating with extra time, dealing with doctors appointments and testing, etc.). But the affinity at its core really just wants to be there for its members and provide them with a good space where they can “come together and forget the stress of everything else for a while,” Amy concludes.