Affinity Groups


What is an affinity group?

Affinity groups are school-sponsored groups that deliberately separate and divide students and staff into groups based on their skin color, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Affinity Groups may also be labeled using other terms like “safe spaces” and “healing spaces.” 

A 2009 article from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education describes affinity groups this way: 

“In this context the term, borrowed from political and business contexts, describes an assembly of people gathered with others who share a common element of identity in order to explore, celebrate, sustain, and process their experiences around that identity.” 

This means that in 2023, students and staff are included or excluded in meetings and activities based on race. 

The article goes on to tout White Students Confronting Racism (WSCR), a group exclusively for white students. It is described as “a place for white people to examine what it means to be white, to critically reflect on themselves and their actions, and to work to identify and confront racism in schools, in society, and at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.” Students are encouraged to “focus on whiteness as a racial category.” 

A 2021 National Review article summarizes affinity groups this way: 

“The practice usually entails one group for black participants, a second for “non-black people of color,” and a third for white participants, typically to discuss issues of race, “equity,” policing, and such.” In other words, students and staff are segregated based on immutable traits. The non-white students and faculty, or “people of color,” are put into groups based on skin color, while white students are relegated to groups in which they discuss “equity”- a term that describes when schools use “unequal treatment to achieve equal outcomes.”

Where do we see them?

Affinity groups are being used in public and private schools all over the country.

For example, Farragut Middle School in Westchester County, New York, has race-based affinity groups for students. 

Pickens Middle School in South Carolina separated students by race to listen to a guest speaker. 

A school board member in Knox County, Tennessee is a “Educator Diversity Advocacy Council” member for the non-profit consulting firm Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance and advocated for creating affinity groups in Knox County Schools.

Angier Elementary School in Newton, Massachusetts, created an affinity group for “Asian fourth and fifth graders.” 

We invite you to explore our Indoctrination Map to see examples of affinity groups in public and private schools all over the country. 

How do schools justify affinity groups?

Schools claim that affinity groups create supportive environments for students with shared interests. But shared interests include soccer, math, or the debate team. Affinity groups, on the other hand, use skin color, ethnicity, or sexual orientation to define their groups. 

Unfortunately, affinity groups are touted by well-known organizations with great influence in K-12 education and in teacher preparation programs..

A 2015 Learning for Justice article, Making Space, justifies affinity groups by saying, “Gathering in safe spaces around shared identity allows students to engage in conversations about how they can subvert the structures that push them to the margins.”

Learning for Justice is a nonprofit that “seeks to uphold the mission of the Southern Poverty Law Center” and “dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements and advance the human rights of all people.”

The National Association of Independent Schools, a DC-based nonprofit representing over 1,600 private schools, describes affinity groups as “a group of people with common interests, background, and experience that come together to support each other. Affinity groups for people of color can be magical places in a historically elite and exclusive independent school system.”

Why are affinity groups bad?

Affinity groups, similar to social-emotional learningethnic studies may sound benign, noble even, but it is neither benign nor noble to separate students by race or any other immutable trait, even in the name of “inclusion.”  These groups teach children that our sameness and our differences are found in our immutable traits like skin color.  

One study shows that on college campuses, affinity groups lead to less sense of shared identity and inclusivity. According to Heterodox Academy, “One of the largest studies, by Jim Sidanius and colleagues, found unambiguously negative effects when students joined racially homogeneous groups… Sidanius found that the effects include “an increased sense of ethnic victimization and a decreased sense of common identity and social inclusiveness.” 

Why are affinity groups unconstitutional?

Affinity groups that divide students by their skin color and only permit students of a particular skin color to join the group may violate the United States Constitution’s 14th amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

The 14th amendment was added to the constitution in 1868 following the end of the Civil War and made the morally reprehensible practice of slavery illegal. In addition, it guarantees “equal protection under the law” for all American citizens. It states, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education is an example of how the 14th amendment has safeguarded equal protection. Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education ruled that separate educational facilities based on race are unequal and unconstitutional. As a result, this landmark case launched the de-segregation of public schools.

All United States citizens, regardless of their skin color, ethnicity, or other traits, should be treated equally. But, affinity groups do the opposite. On this ground, Parents Defending Education filed a lawsuit against Wellesley Public Schools that ended in a settlement agreement that ended the school’s “affinity groups” which explicitly excluded students based on race.

Wellesley Public Schools issued a statement that it never should have – and never will again – suggest to parents that their children can be excluded from school-sponsored events because of their race. And if the district holds “affinity groups” in the future, it must clearly and unequivocally state that such events are open to all students regardless of race.

Additional Info and Resources

Are there Affinity Groups in your child’s school? Let us know about it here!

Parents Defending Education Civil Rights Complaints against Schools using Affinity Groups

Education Dept. to investigate racial affinity groups at New York City middle school, FOX News