Students create new affinity spaces at the Urban School

Vivien Manning, Staff writer

  In the past year, affinity groups- groups for students who share a common identity- for students of Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, and Latino heritage have been formed, as the leaders expressed a desire for affinity spaces that would focus on specific racial identities. The most recent affinity space, for Asian/Pacific Islander identified students (API), was created this year.

   While Urban has had a Students of Color (SOC) space, API co-leader Meika McCready (‘18) said, “I think the danger with the term person of color or student of color or anything of color is that it does generalize and while that is unifying and liberating in some ways, it does suddenly erase identities into one homogenous group of color.”

  API co-leader Maceo Anderson (‘18) expressed a similar sentiment and said, “having an affinity space like SOC is very blanketing … Having more specific affinity spaces seems more fitting. Having those different spaces that can be more specific than SOC is appropriate and nice.”

  One of McCready’s goals in creating the affinity space was to educate Asian/Pacific Islander students on their heritage, a knowledge she said “has been erased from most settings.” She heard this echoed in the meetings, when members expressed a desire to learn about their culture and histories. “Just [learning about our culture and history] is really empowering, and it’s kind of a basic need, a basic desire, like I want to know where I come from, I want to know who my people are … It’s not surprising and also extremely surprising for me to hear that basic desire,” said McCready.

  She cites lack of representation of Asian/Pacific Islander history as contributing to this erasure. McCready said, “we are not mentioned in US history, or really any history unless it’s specifically Asian history, so there is an erasure … Sometimes it really feels like there’s no place for us. Making a space specifically for Asian and Pacific Islanders, it is nice for me to feel like I finally fully belong.”

  While other high schools in the Bay Area have clubs that are open to students of all ethnicities, and whose goal is to spread awareness about a specific culture or heritage, McCready explained the importance of an affinity space and said, “Sometimes, I feel stifled in white spaces. At Urban, I don’t necessarily feel like I can express all of my Asianess. But to be with people who share that common identity, it’s very unifying… we don’t have to prove anything, we don’t have to prove how Asian we are, we don’t have to prove our value and status.”

  “Urban needs to have [a cultural appreciation and awareness space.] We could use that as an opportunity to spread awareness about being an Asian person. That’s a great idea to bring Asian awareness, but before you gain awareness you do have to have that space to begin with, the self-identifying Asian students. Because if they don’t feel comfortable within their own community, it’s harder to spread awareness,” said co-leader of API affinity space Jade Barnblatt (‘18).

  Enyolli Martinez (‘17) and Nick Andino (‘18) are the first co-leaders of Latinx, an affinity space for students who identify as Latinx, a gender-inclusive term that refers to people of Latin-American heritage. Martinez recalled that in the past few years, students came up to her asking if there would be a Latinx identified space.

  “I didn’t see the Latino ethnicity really being represented, so I thought, let’s bring this up…if there was a need for it that I heard, let’s do it,” said Martinez. Martinez emphasized the importance of the tight knit community of Latinx, especially in the predominately white space of Urban (61% of Urban students are white), saying, “Family is a big thing in Latino community and I feel that a lot with my Latinx brothers and sisters. Connecting that [Latino] identity and making sure that doesn’t get faded. I feel like that happens a lot within Latino communities. Specifically for me…sometimes I’m scared my Latino heritage might be faded out or disappear at one point.”

  Andino underscored the value of a Latinx affinity space in light of President Trump’s controversial remarks about Latinos.

   “I think that especially what’s going on with our President, understanding how that can really affect a lot of people. Especially for me, my dad is an immigrant. So I think that having that sense of … understanding is definitely important,” he said.

  Olive Rynberg-Going (‘18), co-leader of Black Student Union with Cameron Galley (‘17) emphasized the necessity of an affinity space for black students.

  “Not that big [of] things have happened, but just microaggressions build up or you just get kind of lonely,” Rynberg-Going said. According to Rynberg-Going, an average meeting consists of four students, and the small size cultivates close student-faculty relationships. “[There are] definitely good mentor relationships, because it’s almost like a one-to-one faculty relationship in BSU,” she said.

  Rynberg-Going noted the importance of maintaining a balance between spreading awareness about issues that affect the black community, and creating a space solely for black students. “Urban needs to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement, and that’d be cool to have everyone come in and discuss that or have a forum on the N word and exactly who cannot say it. I think Urban would love to hear that and should hear that … but we’d have to have closed meetings just for black kids, too,” she said.