In late November, six Berkeley High School affinity groups were permitted to resume meetings after a three-month postponement due to the creation of new guidelines on student groups made by the U.S. Department of Education. While the affinity groups were not found to be in violation of the new legislation, changes were still made.
The BHS small school Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) leads six affinity groups primarily for CAS students but open to all. They consist of a Black Affinity group, a Latinx Affinity group, a Young Men’s Affinity group, a Young Women’s affinity group, a Gender Expansive Affinity group, and a Social Justice Action group.
Affinity groups meet once a week during class time and are spaces where students can decompress, check-in, and discuss topics relating to their identity. “It’s a great way to build community, and it’s really fun,” said Cassandra Gonzalez, a BHS junior who participates in the Latinx Affinity Group.
“We were about ready to launch,” said Stephanie Schaudel, a CAS teacher who runs the Social Justice Action group. “And then we were told by administrators we had to pause while the Title IX coordinator had to review the Office of Civil Rights’ new guidelines about student groups.”
A report made on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights caused the review of the affinity groups. This report made new Guidelines about student groups and recommendations about inclusion.“The CAS affinity groups were not found in violation of Title VI either by the District’s Civil Rights and Compliance Office nor the Office of Civil Rights,” said Tammy Rose, a BHS vice principal. “The Office of Civil Rights issued new guidelines, therefore we had to review that our affinity groups meet the guidelines, hence the delay in commencement of the CAS affinity groups.”
As a result of this investigation, the administration required that every affinity group explicitly state that they are open to all students regardless of race or gender. While this had previously been a norm, to avoid allegations of discrimination, it has been written into the laws of these groups.
Other changes included guardian consent, counselor facilitation requirements, and collective norms. Students in every affinity group, except the gender expansive group, are required to get guardian consent before joining. If a group discusses sensitive topics, a counselor must now be present or on call. This year all affinity groups joined together to create a list of shared rules for these spaces.
Young Men’s Affinity group leader and BHS teacher Alex Day shared his thoughts on the requirement that these affinity groups be open to all. Day said, “We hold the line on this type of thing, even though it doesn’t make one hundred percent sense to me. So that we can hold the line on other anti-discrimination cases.”
In addition to being a fun environment, affinity groups also contribute to student wellness. “We know from research and just live experience that emotional wellness is a key part of a student’s ability to succeed in school,” said Schaudel.
These affinity groups are funded by the Berkeley Development Group. The grant compensates teachers for their time and provides a budget for snacks.
The Young Men’s Affinity group was reinstated last year. Day, the group leader, identified several hopes for this coming year, including; unpacking toxic masculinity in our culture and “reflection on how our ideas of masculinity in society are harmful to people who identify as male and others.”
Day took aspects of the curriculum from the gender unit in the BHS ethnic studies class. Students in the Young Men’s Affinity group last year watched “The Mask You Live In” and discussed how toxic masculinity manifested itself in their lives. “The big picture goal is to deconstruct the patriarchy, but I’ll settle for some self-reflection,” said Day.
One of the affinity groups, the Social Justice Action group, is working on “making a proclamation to make sure that CAS social justice values are more embedded into our curriculum,” said Izel Thoele, who has been a group member for the past two years.
Last year the Social Justice Action group spent several sessions watching “Reservation Dogs,” a TV show with an all-indigenous cast and production crew. This prompted discussions around new ways to think about media projects in class. “When you realize that with creating media … those projects really have a lot of potential and value for our own character and story that we want to tell,” said Thoele.
The changes that were made to the affinity groups were fairly minimal. In response to changes made, Day said, “I would welcome whoever, and I would hope that they could get something out of the offerings that are geared towards people who identify as male.”