During the Pandemic, Affinity Groups Play a Critical Role in the Community

Leo Yang '22, Staff Writer

 On Sunday, October 4, the Asian Affinity Group celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival and kicked off its first meeting of the year. Normally, this multicultural traditional festival is celebrated in the cozy living room of the Wu-Davis household, with Asian food, music, games, and, of course, mooncakes. However, just like many other gatherings, we celebrated over Zoom this year. 

 Luckily, the meeting saw a considerable number of attendees. Almost 30 students joined the first meeting, half of whom were new Bears. The meeting lasted for a little over an hour, and consisted of a brief self introduction, a presentation of the affinity group itself, and pitches about platforms for communication and hang-outs. Finally, after sending out a survey to collect more ideas and availability from the attendants, the meeting ended with a round of Among Us, the popular multiplayer deduction game, for those who remained on the call. 

 Running the affinity group this year needs a completely different approach. The group welcomes 49 students with Asian backgrounds: 18 are new students, and a large majority of them remain home as virtual learners. 

 Seven group leaders—Lydia Davis ’21, Luke Nguyen ’21, Moya Techakalayatum ’21, Wilson Zheng ’21, Wakaba Aihara ’22, Sanjna Srinivasan ’22, and Leo Yang ’22—and  group advisor Dr. Tasia Wu met three times before the meeting to plan out the agenda and find the best time across several time zones. Preparations included making an introductory video for the weekly “Bears Share,” sending out several all-school and private email invitations, and having regional leaders contact students from their specific country to join the meeting. The immense efforts put behind the meeting were a key factor that made this first meeting successful.

 During the pandemic and an unprecedented and challenging school year, affinity groups are extremely important. For many new members of Asian Affinity Group, these gatherings might be one of the few chances they have to meet other people. Cultural differences and physical distances can obstruct their connections with their peers, and an over-ten-hour time difference further reduces their chances to join synchronous classes and meet their classmates. Therefore, most of the new freshmen and sophomores haven’t befriended anyone other than those from their home country. This is why it’s critical for affinity groups to play their roles and build a broader platform for their members.

 Nonetheless, affinity groups can’t merely be present. During the meeting, the familiar awkwardness of everyone muting themselves once again dominated the screen. Reasonably, new students are shy to speak up in front of older classmates (and the cumbersome Zoom experience surely elevates the stress), but it is crucial for group leaders to create a more casual virtual space.  Instead of throwing out topics and expecting a heated conversation, some Zoom-friendly games and trivias may serve to warm up the atmosphere. In the survey that the group sent out asking for activity ideas, almost every response suggests Among Us, movies, or even Zoom concert. But most importantly, affinity groups need to meet with consistency. 

 Some may argue that affinity groups only provide connections for students with the same background, and it limits their chances to jump outside their comfort zone and reach out to people who are different from them. Still, affinity groups are a good place to start. The Asian Affinity Group consists of students from over nine countries and regions, and it is an ideal place for Asian students to exchange their various national backgrounds under the same Asian ethnicity. 

 Not only does it encourage Asian students to speak up their voices and share their experiences with a broader community, but it also serves as a harbor to share their similarities amongst each other. During the pandemic when physical connections are severely restricted, the connection brought by affinity groups is crucial for students’ emotional well being.