Hewitt has Young Women’s Cooperative meetings, in which members of the community participate in affinity groups, which are crucial to the Hewitt community and expression of a certain piece of identity. An affinity group is a group of people with common interests, backgrounds, and experiences who come together to support each other. Hewitt facilitates racial, gender, sexual orientation, and religious affinity groups in which students speak about their experiences in a safe environment created by the students and teachers around them who share a certain aspect of their identity. These empowering affinity groups are especially helpful in predominantly white independent schools because minorities or marginalized groups benefit from a space to discuss their background, experiences, and come together to support each other. The students appreciate the establishment of and their ability to confide in the Young Women’s Cooperative; they appreciate that, “everyone can feel included and comfortable in their own skin.” The acknowledgment of stereotypes, current events, and personal experiences benefits these students by equipping them with tools to speak about identity and active courses for evoking change. The Cooperative “enhances confidence in addressing these issues as well as knowledge and perspective on them.” These discussions foster thoughtful thinking, openness, and comfort with these topics, both personally and collectively.
Having a place in schools in which students of color can discuss their experiences and discover ways in which they can overcome any of their external obstacles. The Young Women’s Cooperative benefits the Hewitt community by transcending beyond the traditional black and white interpretation of race. Affinity groups can be especially helpful in predominantly white independent schools because minorities or marginalized groups need a space to discuss their background, experiences, and come together to support each other. We discussed how teachers can help out in these situations and advocate for students of color, instead of being bystanders to the serious racial issues within. A student in the Latinx affinity group says, “Young women’s coop is an amazing space where we not only talk about stereotypes or current events, but we also talk about our experiences and what we can do as students to change things for the better, not only in our society but in our community as a school to be more inclusive.” The faculty advisor in this affinity group listens to our feelings and empowers us to speak up, supporting us in this long journey of injustice at Hewitt. In such a short period of time, we were able to discuss and communicate our feelings as students of color and the insensitive comments we constantly hear our peers say. We addressed where the issues had begun in the lower school at Hewitt. A few of us described some of the feelings we had when teachers would mix up our names and assume students of the same race related. We were able to finally express the confused, upset, powerless feelings we felt during those moments. As a newcomer to the Young Women’s Cooperative, the most recent meeting in the people of color race based affinity group was illuminating, creating a space where students could address the problems in our school. The small group of us were able to brainstorm how we can create a safe environment for the grades below us. All white predominant schools must have a space where students of color can share their experiences and come together to support each other and feel heard within their community.
On the other hand, there is value in a space where white people can discuss ways to become thoughtfully acting allies, be more aware of racism, and make our school more inclusive. The White Allies, the white race affinity group, discusses the concept of privilege, and how women with a certain degree of privilege can feel more comfortable speaking during conversations involving race. Members of the discussion brainstorm the ways they can positively affect the community, using inclusivity, listening, and questioning actions or intentions. The group identifies our introduction to the concept of race by recalling memories in childhood years, such as specific interactions, knowledge, and messages relating to race. To compliment our own experiences, we read and respond to other accounts in various articles, such as the NPR article: Why All Parents Should Talk With Their Kids About Social Identity.
In previous years, the Young Women’s Cooperative affinity groups solely divided on the basis of race. The groups that met were the People of Color affinity group, the Latinx affinity group, and the White Allies affinity group. This year, new categories have been introduced including religion, gender, and sexual orientation; which form new affinity groups and new discussion points. In addition, another affinity group within race was added, the pan-Asian affinity group. These different topics rotate, to provide each opportunity of discussion adequate and equal time. New discussions every cycle add to the inclusivity, awareness, and respect in our community at Hewitt.
The religion-based affinity groups are Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Atheism. Participants in these conversations speak to their experiences in a predominantly Jewish school. In the Muslim affinity group, students discuss their experiences as a marginalized group at Hewitt. Currently, the Muslim students at Hewitt are working on their holiday awareness project to recognize Eid as a no school holiday. Hewitt is an institution that values diversity and inclusion, as an inclusive environment, all students should have their religious holidays off. In this affinity group, students discuss how the exclusion of Muslim holidays in most private schools has left Muslim students with a feeling of being overlooked. Since public schools in New York have Eid off from school, Hewitt should follow and respect religious inclusivity. All students should have the opportunity to celebrate with families on their respective holidays. Muslim students in the Islam affinity group hope to leave a legacy of respect and inclusion at Hewitt for younger generations.
The gender-based discussions differentiate from the others because the meetings are not divided by affinity groups; instead, community members assemble to speak as a group about gender. In these conversations, students acknowledge the impact of all-girls education, and how this has influenced their gender identity. Often in an all-girls school, we focus on the experience of the typical girl, leaving out the many different ways all girls can identify. These gender based discussions give Hewitt students a space where they can learn about the different ways one can identify and how to respect one another.
The sexual orientation-based affinity groups are straight, bisexual, lesbian/gay, pansexual, asexual, and queer. Although we have yet to divide into these affinity groups, this time has been dedicated to discussions about current events related to the LGBTQ community, such as Dwayne Wade’s decision to publicize his son’s sexual orientation.
Students should utilize the Young Women’s Cooperative to increase mindful thinking, open-mindedness, and comfort speaking about complicated race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation based issues. As one student said, there traditionally is, “a barrier between blacks and whites when race is involved, but, in Young Women’s Cooperative we are able to overcome the typical stigma surrounding conversations of race, and start to include different identifiers.” We encourage students, as members of Hewitt’s community, to either join the Cooperative or participate in discussions fostered by the Cooperative in order to become increasingly comfortable with these much-needed conversations.