Published September 17, 2021
UB is piloting several “affinity groups” this fall for members of the university community with common purpose and identity to meet, converse and share ideas.
“We’ve only had two meetings so far, but it’s kind of fun,” says Katharine Darling, associate dean for academic services in the Graduate School. “It’s really nice to get other perspectives from people I would never have any contact with otherwise.”
Darling is among the 10 people who participated in the fledgling Accessibility Affinity Group, one of the six being piloted by the Office for Inclusive Excellence. There’s another group on gender, one on race, one on LGBTQ+, one related to inclusive pedagogy and another focused on the international community at UB.
“Affinity groups bring together UB community members with shared interests, backgrounds and experiences to reflect, learn and support each other,” says Despina Stratigakos, vice provost for inclusive excellence.
“Although informal in nature, the groups’ collective focus can powerfully transform our learning and work environments to help make them more equitable and welcoming for all,” she says.
The idea to start affinity groups at UB originated last spring after the second annual Inclusive Excellence Summit. The summit consisted of virtual workshops highlighting practices and initiatives that support diversity and inclusion at UB.
Attendees were asked if they would be interested in continuing the dialogue more regularly as part of an affinity group.
“So, that’s how it started,” says Jared Strohl, diversity project coordinator in the Office of Inclusive Excellence. “We just wanted to gauge whether or not this was something people were looking for.
“At this point, it’s still in its initial stages,” Strohl explains. “We’re helping support it as much as we can, but this is really a question of whether or not this is something people will find valuable. If they do, we’ll continue to support it, but we want it to be a space that belongs to the people who attend.”
The Accessibility Affinity Group was the first to get started and already has had two sessions focused on how to make UB a more accessible campus for those with disabilities. The sessions were virtual.
Some participated as interested “allies” of those with disabilities and no one should feel pressured to reveal personal information, says Susan Mann Dolce, one of the facilitators of the group.
It’s just a way to create conversation on an important issue, but in a space where people are respectful of different points of view, says Mann Dolce, associate director for consultation and research for Accessibility Resources.
“I’ve learned over the years that giving people an opportunity to talk more is a way to build connection and community,” she says. “That’s really our goal.”
“I think we don’t have enough dialogue around DEI issues — diversity, equity and inclusion — and I think this will facilitate more dialogue and more conversations,” Darling adds. “I just think this is the kind of thing that will help people open up a little more.”
Most of those who joined the Accessibility Affinity Group are UB employees, but the group is looking for more students, like Valerie Juang.
“I do have some friends with disabilities and there are just so many things that they have to go through on a daily basis that I never even thought of,” says Juang, a sophomore.
Juang participated in the Accessibility Affinity Group, in part, because of her interest in social justice issues. She is a social organizer with the Western New York Youth Climate Council.
“Accessibility is really what social justice is all about,” Juang says. “It’s about making sure we have our rights, we have our options and people have the room to pick the option they need and want.”
The upcoming schedule for the six affinity groups is as follows:
Those interested can sign up to receive a link for any of the sessions, Strohl says.
“I hope that this goes on for quite a while, so coming out of them we can have some policies or some practices or some changes,” Darling says. “I don’t think it’s just to create a dialogue, but that’s the beginning step.”