"What is identity?" Director of Community Building and Inclusivity Aliya Virani asked Upper School students in the Upper School Assembly on Oct. 7. A number of responses followed, all touching on some version of "who you are," and a sixth grader said "the way you put together the puzzle pieces of who you are."
The assembled Upper School had just watched part of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk, "The Danger of a Single Story,"
and responded equally perceptively to the Nigerian author's message about the importance of people being known and understood from multiple perspectives.
The TED talk and subsequent discussion were part of the roll-out of this year's identity groups — formerly known as "affinity groups" and renamed following work by Virani and teachers Anthony Sabedra and Drew Hetzel on a PA Enrichment Grant this summer aimed at providing more inclusive opportunities for girls to explore the "different puzzle pieces of who they are."
At the end of last year, Virani, Sabedra and Hetzel administered a survey asking students which of the existing "affinity groups" they identified with and what new groups they would be interested in seeing created. After compiling and analyzing this data and consulting with faculty interested in leading these groups, we have decided to offer students the opportunity to participate in 12 student interest identity groups (listed below). We may add more groups over the course of the year based on student interest and adult availability.
The Identity Groups provide an opportunity for students with similar backgrounds and experiences to gather in a safe space where they can share pieces of their backgrounds and build common connections in their community. While meeting, groups may create educational opportunities for the community, discuss national and global events, and discuss topics that the girls may be grappling with. We hope that sharing their experiences with other students from similar backgrounds whom they might not otherwise get to know will create a stronger sense of community for our students as well as a richer understanding of their own and others' stories.
After the Oct. 7 assembly, students were given the opportunity to express preferences for participation in the various groups being offered at this point or to choose to stay in advisory for discussion and activities related to identity and diversity. The first meeting time will be this coming Friday at the end of the school day, and groups will continue to meet monthly on what we are calling "Flexible Fridays" — when the schedule is adjusted to make room for an extended advisory in the morning and various activities, from quiet reading to identity groups, during the last period. If students are interested in meeting more frequently, and the adult leader is available, lunchtime meetings are also possible.
As we are aware that middle-school-aged children's identity is constantly evolving, we will encourage girls to attend as many groups over the course of the year as they may identity with. The students will meet in small groups facilitated by faculty members and topics will be derived from students’ interests. Both students and faculty will lead the discussions and activities.
Identity Groups currently offered (with potential to grow depending on student interest): Latina/Hispanic Group, African-American Group, Asian-American Group, Multi-Racial Group, Caucasian Group, Gay Straight Alliance, Learning Differences Group, Divorced/Separated Parents and Families in Transition Identity Group, Older Sibling Group and Cultural Explorations Identity Group (a place for students that are interested in learning about different types of cultures and exploring global current events).
How were these groups decided upon?
The students filled out a survey at the end of last year letting us know that types of groups they would be interested in being a part of. We reviewed their suggestions and asked faculty members to identify groups they would feel comfortable and interested in facilitating.
Are Identity Groups exclusionary?
The purpose of the groups are for each girl to find a place where she is comfortable and to connect with others with similar backgrounds and experiences. The groups are designed to support the girls who choose to participate in them. We have created an identity group model where all girls can explore different groups even if they do not personally identify with the group's label. We believe each girl can be an ally for the group and her time spent in the group can be learning opportunity to build understanding of different perspectives.
Is attendance to these groups mandatory? If my daughter does not attend what will be happening during this time?
No, this is strictly optional for the students. If they do not attend an Identity Group, they will be in advisory group working on an activity around diversity led by an Upper School faculty member.
How was this information presented to my daughter?
A presentation was shared with students during assembly. Time was given for the girls to ask questions and share ideas. Students also filled out a questionnaire in advisory group and were given time to discuss Identity Groups at this time.
Please feel free to contact Rebekah Wolman
or Aliya Virani
, Director of Community Building and Inclusivity, if you have any questions.