Affinity group invites new voices


Dare to Empower, also known as “DTE,” puts a focus on empowering female-identifying students by discussing issues they’re handing in and out of school. Now, male-identifying and non-female identifying students are also meeting in affinity to discuss allyship, as well as issues that this group faces.

“An ally is not just as a tag, but an action. They’re active strategies or active things that we can do to be a good ally,”  Mr. Cortez, one of the teachers leading the new affinity group, said. “I think learning about those strategies and then teaching those strategies to others is very important.”

The first meeting took place on Tuesday, Dec. 3, and more will take place next semester.

The group for female-identifying students has already hosted several lunch and learns led by female-identifying staff members. Attendees are treated to food and taught valuable lessons that the DTE subcommittee hopes will spark positive change in the female-identifying student body.

English Teacher Ms. Christian emphasized that it’s especially important that this message is focused on student voices because of evidence that shows female-identifying individuals are often at a disadvantage.

“It’s rooted in knowing that statistics show both locally on our campus as well as nationally and globally that female-identifying people are a historically underrepresented group,” Christian said. “Our tagline is empowering voices, raising awareness, making a difference and celebrating successes to create lasting local and global change for the female-identifying population.”

The female-identifying affinity group gained members from all grades and has shared strategies for empowerment, confidence and voicing opinions in and out of school.

Junior Kelly Fagel stated that DTE has given her the courage to do previous things she feared.

“DTE has become a home for me at VHHS. I know there are people I can trust one-hundred-percent and the group heavily focuses on growth for everyone and truly supporting every girl that attends,” Fagel said.

This fall, the DTE committee decided it was time to invite non-female identifying students into the conversation. The committee hopes that this addition will create awareness among the peers of female-identifying students.
Several male staff members joined in support of the DTE mission: Dr. Young, Mr. Woodie, Mr. Avila, Mr. Isabelli, Mr. Lueken, Mr. Clifford, Mr. Phelan and Mr. Cortez.
For a time, the affinity groups will meet separately. This is so issues that one gender experiences will be heard by an environment that will resonate with those of the same affinity group.
“There are issues that the male-identifying people will probably inevitably end up talking about. Maybe [males] feel boxed in society’s definitions of masculinity, and how do you deal with that?” Ms. Christian said. Bris Borbe (11) said he’s looking forward to an opportunity where everyone can join a safe space and discuss issues that their peers are experiencing.
“Including guys is a great decision that will benefit the student body. Guys nowadays feel criticized, alienated in a sense, in the current political and social climate,” Borbe said.
DTE hopes in the near future to combine the two affinity groups because it’ll create an environment that is more realistic and will benefit everyone in the process.
Ms. Christian referred to a Harvard Business Review study by Brad Johnson and David Smith about how working together creates a more positive and efficient workplace.
“When men engaged in gender inclusion programs, 96% of organizations saw progress. On the other hand, organizations, where it’s only the women talking, saw only 30% of progress over time,” Christian said. “This inclusion makes people rise in leadership, feeling more accepted and more affirmed.”
Ms. Macias hopes students from all identities will join the affinity groups and spark growth within the student body.
“[Affinity groups create] a safe space for that group to make connections to state problems and to problem solve.  It’s about ways that they would like to have allies join the conversation,” Macias said.