What We Share: Affinity in School (article in Gay Parent Magazine, NY)

 

“If you’re going to Queer Space, please head to Broadway. If you’re a Straight Ally, head to Jackson. Facilitators will meet you there.”

It’s Wednesday at Puget Sound Community School, a small independent school, located in the International District of Seattle, in Chinatown, a bustling neighborhood with a deep heritage. You can smell fresh dumplings for blocks, play table tennis outside under brightly colored murals, and stop to read about the ID’s long history of redlining, internment, and “pioneering.” This land and all surrounding neighborhoods (the ones that were actually land and not tidal flats) were originally home to the Duwamish people.

PSCS staff recently shifted to an entirely collaborative leadership structure. We have no Head of School and our administrative team functions through a process of proposal, discussion, trial, and reflection. Our work is anti-hierarchical, responsive, transparent, and, sometimes, achingly slow–especially as we labor through the daily needs and responses to our community during this fractured, irrepressible time.

Every Wednesday, PSCS Affinity Groups meet for an hour in solidarity, support, and fun. Ally groups meet in solidarity, but also to further our understanding of our various privileges and biases—and practice integrating accountability with action.

Almost half our students identify as non-binary, gender expansive, trans, and lesbian and gay, and our queer affinity & straight allies groups are the most regularly well attended at PSCS. Facilitators are queer folks as well. They lead students through check-ins for well being, discuss current issues and struggles, and provide specific topics. One co-facilitator often acknowledges, “We all stand on the shoulders of people before us. It’s important to see each other, to learn the long history of those who came before, so we can better serve the queer people who will come after we are gone.”

Hetero staff and students also meet at the same time. Recently, one of our facilitators began conversation using the anthology You are Your Best Thing,” co-created by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown. The essays within center “Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience” and implore us to consider that humanity and Intersectionality (Kimberlé Crenshaw) must scaffold all of our discussions.

PSCS affinity groups rotate weekly. Last Wednesday, Black & Brown space met—a scheduled opportunity for our global majority students and staff to decompress and share. As an institution, we recognize that Black & Brown students who attend independent schools experience school much differently from white students; that we live and learn together on land that some of our community members’ ancestors never ceded.

White students and staff meet at the same time to engage in facilitated anti-bias activities, caucusing, and anti-racist education. We hope to build positive racial identities for all our students; to know ourselves and our heritage, while continually investigating the truth of others’ experiences.

Next will be girl-identified and boy-identified spaces. PSCS girls who identify with the binary and want time together, and, on occasion, speak directly to boys about their experiences living under patriarchy. PSCS boy-identified students and staff discuss their experiences, and have talked about being deeply moved to hear from their girl-identified classmates.

Neurodiverse space is new this year and was convened by students. After their first meeting, they identified the crux of these spaces: Being both visible AND feeling seen are how we transform equity and inclusion into belonging.

This work is by no means enough or perfect. We believe support for each other within a range of differences is crucial—and the first steps for us all are acknowledgement and accountability. Being a collaborative staff means it takes extra effort to identify our internal hierarchies, but the process allows for real belonging amongst us all.

See full article in Gay Parent Magazine, New York.