Introducing INSIGHT Into Diversity’s First Annual Inspiring Affinity Group Award

By  - 
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Black Faculty and Staff Association

At INSIGHT Into Diversity, we know that cultivating a sense of belonging and a welcoming environment for employees is critical to creating an inclusive campus community. Anyone seeking a career at an institution of higher education benefits from campus organizations that offer employees opportunities for social and professional networking, peer mentoring, and more. These organizations are typically referred to as employee resource groups (ERGs) or affinity groups. 

The inaugural INSIGHT Into Diversity Inspiring Affinity Group Award recognizes 38 member groups that have made a significant impact on their members, campuses, and communities.

Why recognize affinity groups?
ERGs are considered by diversity and inclusion professionals to be a best practice and an imperative for institutions that believe a diverse and inclusive campus is key to their success. 

These groups can also have a tremendous impact on recruiting and retaining diverse faculty, staff, and administrators. People with similar backgrounds, academic and personal interests, and especially those from underrepresented groups often find these organizations can have a great deal of influence on their workplace experience.

The concept of workplace affinity groups originated with the racial tensions and workplace segregation of the civil rights era, according to the Boston College Center for Work and Family. The first documented ERG, the National Black Employee Caucus, was founded at Xerox in 1970. This group and the many others created during the post-civil rights era were intended to provide employees of the same race with social networking opportunities and a safe space to discuss their shared challenges and experiences. 

Today, 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have at least one employee affinity group.
ERGs have expanded from being based solely on racial identity to include groups whose members share a variety of sociocultural identities and professional backgrounds — from LGBTQ veterans to working mothers in STEM, and many more. 

Regardless of the structure and membership of these groups, however, their core purpose remains the same: to create communities of peers and mentors who can support one another socially and professionally. 

In addition to the positive career and personal outcomes for employees, many employers consider ERGs as adding significant value to their organization through talent development and retention. In many corporations, affinity groups serve as consultants and decisionmakers regarding everything from product development to community relations. Moreover, they provide a collective voice when it comes to addressing workplace and campus leadership regarding common concerns. In recent weeks, for instance, many ERGs have demanded that their employers commit to addressing systemic racism in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing civil unrest in the U.S. and abroad. 

Many members say that these groups are integral to their career success and satisfaction. Research shows that the popularity of ERGs has only grown over the last decade at companies that prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Furthermore, research also shows that younger workers are more interested in joining ERGs than their predecessors, with some experts predicting that affinity groups provide the values and support needed to engage and retain millennial and Gen Z employees. Their increase in popularity also aligns with the increasingly diverse demographics of the U.S. workforce as the country advances toward becoming a majority-minority nation.

For new employees, these organizations can especially be an asset. They provide senior and peer mentors who assist with the onboarding process, which is crucial according to multiple studies that show the first 60 to 90 days of employment are a critical time for building community and a trajectory for success. In relatively siloed workplace environments such as college campuses, ERGSs help new faculty and staff create connections across disciplines that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. They also provide formal and informal mentors, training opportunities, and other guidance for junior employees to advance through the often complex and competitive system of higher education careers. 

As colleges and universities move forward through the unprecedented difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest due to systemic racism and police brutality, knowing how to listen and respond to the needs of diverse employees is more imperative than ever. The following have been selected as recipients of the inaugural INSIGHT Into Diversity Inspiring Affinity Group Award. 

Adelphi University
Faculty of Color Network
The Faculty of Color Network was established by Adelphi University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion as a retention program to support the university’s significant increase in the number of faculty members who are ethnically and racially underrepresented. The group is designed to bring new, underrepresented faculty members fully into the academic life of the university while addressing their professional, social, and emotional needs. Perhaps most important, the network provides new faculty members with access to role models who can serve as mentors, talk about leadership, give honest and direct feedback, and encourage research and publication.

Azusa Pacific University
Black Faculty Staff and Administrators Association (BSFAA)
The mission of BFSAA is to be a visible and viable agency dedicated to promoting and enhancing identity, sense of community, professional welfare, and development among Black employees. Among other efforts, the association focuses on developing meaningful engagement with Black students and strategically placing Black faculty and staff on influential campus committees. It is the inaugural ethnic affinity group at Azusa Pacific University. 

California State University, Fullerton
Undocumented and Ally Faculty and Staff Association (UAFSA)
Founded in spring 2019, UAFSA is the first employee organization of its kind in the California State University system. Its purpose is to support faculty and staff who are undocumented or members of mixed-status families and their allies. Future goals include developing emergency funding for faculty and staff to aid in immigration status support and to support changes in university policies and procedures that can hinder the success of undocumented employees and students.

Chabot College
Chicano Latino Education Association (CLEA)
CLEA has supported Chicano Latino students, faculty, and staff for more than 30 years. Its advocacy efforts include helping the university secure federal funding as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. In addition, the association awards more than $10,000 in scholarships to Latinx students annually. 

Colgate University
Colgate Women’s Leadership Forum (WoLF)
With approximately 200 members, WoLF has a significant reach and impact on the personal and professional growth of women at Colgate University. The forum’s mission is to provide an opportunity for women to empower each other by sharing their interests, ambitions, and talents both on- and off-campus. Its bi-monthly events have included book discussions, Ted Talks, self-defense seminars, storytelling sessions, and much more.

Indiana University School of Medicine
Preventing Imposters Club (PIC)
PIC’s mission is to break the silence on Imposter Phenomenon for women in medicine. The program’s novel approach combines group mentorship for medical residents and faculty with monthly sessions focused on reframing their perceptions about their accomplishments as their careers move forward. 

Grand Valley State University
Positive Black Women
The Positive Black Women affinity group began as informal lunch meetings between African American women employees on campus in 1994. Today, it consists of multiple annual programs for connecting and honoring Black women at the school as well as a scholarship endowment that has awarded more than $25,000 to Black female students.

Harper College
Diverse Relationships Engaged in Affirming Multiculturalism (DREAM)
DREAM’s mentoring program for newly hired underrepresented employees includes an orientation event, professional development trainings, and an end of year celebration. The program has had more than 100 participants over the course of 10 years.

Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
African/Black Affinity Group and LGBTQ+ Affinity Group
Both of these unique groups provide an atmosphere that fosters growth and development for members and promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus. Each organization assists in the recruitment, retention, and advancement of underrepresented employees as well as provides opportunities for community engagement and outreach.

iChange Collaborative
Race Conscious White Educators Resource Group
Race Conscious White Educators Resource Group is a consortium of White, anti-racist educators from a variety of schools who meet online to support each other in becoming more race-conscious, educating other white colleagues and students, and supporting colleagues and students of color in their schools. Group members are intentional about self-education and self-exploration and explore topics such as the meaning of Whiteness.

Kansas State University
Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance (IFSA)
IFSA is a mixture of Indigenous faculty, staff, students, and allies who foster growth and promote greater visibility of Native American people, nations, and perspectives on campus, in the state, and beyond through incorporating Indigenous knowledges and methodologies into both the academy and campus life. In addition to weekly meetings, the group hosts annual events such as the Indigenous Peoples Day Conference.

Lawrence University
Low Income, First-Generation Talent Unpacking Privilege (LIFT-UP)
LIFT-UP has approximately 42 members of faculty and staff who meet often to address the experiences and issues of employees who were low-income or first-generation students. The group also works to dismantle silence and stereotypes surrounding these issues so that students and others find strong, positive models of resilience and success. LIFT-UP enables members of this affinity to have their voices heard in conversations around policy decisions.

Marquette University
Brunch and Bubbly Crew
Once a month, women of color lead, laugh, and fully love themselves while drinking and enjoying brunch with fellow members. There are White women in the group who are allies and great listeners. Together, this group has explored the diverse city of Milwaukee through its multicultural restaurants and food.

Maryville University
Mocha T.E.A.
Mocha T.E.A. strives to promote professional development opportunities around various topics affecting women of color in higher education settings. Through programmatic efforts, the committee provides spaces for students, faculty, and staff to gain holistic support, mentoring, and identity development at a predominantly White institution. Mocha T.E.A. also serves as a recruitment and retention initiative for students, faculty, and staff.

New York University
Mothers of Color
This affinity group stems from the New York University Working Mothers organization, which is under the Administrative Management Council. The group was formed after identifying a need for mothers of color to gather and connect based on their unique challenges in the workplace. The purpose of the group is to provide a space and resources for members to thrive professionally and be in community with each other. 

Oklahoma State University
“Women’s Faculty Council (WFC)
For more than 40 years, the WFC has worked to improve the status of women at the university through advocacy and educational programming, award funding, research, and career support. The group serves in an advisory capacity to the administration and university community and provides space for those on campus interested in raising awareness and developing action to share resources and spark movement. 

Purdue University
Faculty of Color Network
Since the fall of 2014, this network has been an important addition to the Black Caucus of Faculty and Staff and the Latinx Faculty and Staff Association by focusing specifically on social support and professional development for faculty members. The group typically meets socially at least once a month, which reduces the sense of isolation for faculty of color and facilitates informal networking. The network also enhances research productivity, fosters professional development, and invigorates culturally rich events.

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
Alliance for Women in Medicine and Science (AWIMS)
AWIMS provides a supportive forum for honest discussion and positive change in the realms of gender equity, career advancement, work-life balance, community service, and to champion professional development and promotion of women in medicine and science. The group has monthly journal clubs and book clubs where they discuss topics important to women in medicine and science. In addition, members have published a book chapter on the story of AWIMS and have an ongoing IRB-approved protocol on assessing academic culture related to women’s success. 

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA)
The BFSA was organized to create better opportunities, ensure equity and inclusion, provide an engaging network, and create a welcoming environment for Black faculty and staff. Its mission is to provide support while advancing the interests and promoting the welfare of this community on campus. BFSA has increased equity of African American representation on key university search committees and raised more than $4,000 at its first gala to go toward student scholarships.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Adams School of Dentistry
Dental and Oral (DOC) Health Community Scholars (DOC Scholars)
DOC Scholars was formed in 2018 as a community of dental students and faculty to help inculcate the practice of civility, community, and cultural competence in the dental school environment. It hosts regular meetings where members hear from an expert and then break out in small groups while sharing a meal. Each session features content experts — from across the university, state, and nation — and invigorates the way that members communicate, teach, learn, and navigate the intersection of culturally sensitive topics and healthcare delivery. 

The Mount Sinai Health System
Caregivers Employee Resource Group
The Caregivers ERG is one of 11 identified ERGs at the Mount Sinai Health System and currently caters to approximately 40 members. The group serves as a resource to employees by supporting a healthy work-life balance. It identifies and addresses issues related to the responsibilities of being a caregiver and serves as the voice of working caregivers. This ERG takes into consideration the dual role of employees within a health system, many of whom are caregivers in both their professional roles as clinicians and in their personal lives, caring for family members and significant others.

The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine
Dr. J.H. Bias Black Affinity Group
The Dr. J.H. Bias Black Affinity Group is an all-inclusive organization formed to support Black students during their veterinary studies and to honor the legacy of Dr. Bias, the veterinary school’s first African American male graduate. This group is open to all interested students, faculty, and staff of any background within the College of Veterinary Medicine. It aims to strengthen and empower the Black community through hosting social events that involve networking, mentorship, studying, and more.

The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA)
Pride Faculty & Staff Association (Pride FSA)
Pride FSA is an inclusive professional organization that serves as a resource and advocacy group for LGBTQ employees and their families. It offers special sessions and socials throughout the year for the campus community and has partnered with the university’s equivalent LGBTQ student organization. Most recently, Pride FSA was the driving force behind an addition to the university’s branding guidelines for the UTSA mascot. “Pride Rowdy” is now a permanent part of the branding guidelines and can be used for LGBTQ-related events and initiatives, making UTSA the first institution in the University of Texas System to permanently adopt this type of branding for a mascot.

Union College
Women of Color at Union (WOC@Union)
WOC@Union is a two-tier group. One tier provides a safe space for employees to discuss issues that challenge them as women of color. The other tier is a mentorship program between the employees and student members. WOC@Union brings members together for social gatherings and purposeful conversations and serves as a networking space.

University of Arizona College of Medicine
Faculty Diversity Advisory Committee (FDAC)
FDAC strives to support the university’s tradition of education, training, and employment of a diverse faculty and staff. One of its overarching goals is to increase diversity through promoting all groups traditionally underrepresented in medicine, placing a specific focus on Latino/Hispanic and Native American groups. One of FDAC’s most recent accomplishments was the creation of a hiring toolkit, which identifies best practices for promoting diversity and inclusion during the faculty search and hiring process.

University of California, Davis Health (UCDH)
African American Faculty and Staff Association (AAFSA)
AAFSA helps raise awareness of career development opportunities and resources available to African American employees. For more than 25 years, AAFSA has been part of the planning for strategic initiatives to ensure the voices of African Americans at UCDH have a place at the table where decisions are being made.

University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)
UCSF Chicanx/Latinx Campus Association (CLCA)
CLCA creates a growing, volunteer coalition of Chicanx/Latinx faculty and staff who are passionate about identifying and addressing gaps in advancement opportunities. The group works with others across campus and the university system to improve the overall climate by promoting opportunities for networking, professional development, and advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion at UCSF.

University of Dayton
Dayton Athletics Women Leaders
Members of the Dayton Athletics Women Leaders meet to participate in social gatherings such as yoga, meditation, and wine tasting several times per month. The group provides faculty, staff, administrators, and students with development and networking opportunities alongside university athletics staff and coaches.

University of Hartford
International Scholarship Education and Engagement (I-SEE) Affinity Group
Since its inception in 2019, the I-SEE Group has worked diligently to create valuable networking and information-sharing opportunities to bring people with diverse backgrounds and interests together so as to contribute to a more connected and inclusive campus. The group has hosted panel discussions on topics such as cultural conflict and international education and engagement. It also celebrates international events and holidays both on campus and in the community.

University of Lynchburg
Lynchburg Q
Lynchburg Q’s mission is to provide a safe space for LGBTQ faculty and staff to celebrate their identities while simultaneously finding ways to uplift LGBTQ students on campus. Providing this safe space to gather together and support each other from across campus has helped to decrease silos and to increase belonging. The group hosts off-campus social gatherings and engages with opportunities to influence campus infrastructure and programs. 

University of Maryland School of Nursing
‘Booked for Lunch’ Diversified Thinkers Book Club
Since its first meeting in May 2017, the club has read 15 books that explore important topics such as systemic racism, politics, history, mental health, and more. It currently has more than 100 members who meet every other month for dialogue, awareness, and collaborative thinking through review of a variety of diverse reading and media materials. Lunch is provided and sponsored by local women and underrepresented vendors from West Baltimore, as is the reading material. The group includes faculty, staff, and students from across the entire University of Maryland, Baltimore campus. 

University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
Women in Academic Medicine (WIAM)
For 11 years, the WIAM group has supported the career development of women faculty by promoting clinical, scientific, and teaching excellence. There are nearly 665 women faculty members involved with the group who help increase representation and participation of women on campus. WIAM hosts leadership skills training seminars, offers strategies to enhance recruitment and retention, and encourages advocacy and strategic alliances for the benefit of women in medicine.

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Asian American Pacific Islander Desi Faculty & Staff Association (AAPID FSA)
AAPID FSA strives to support university employees by sustaining a visible and dynamic AAPID community on campus, engaging in professional networking and leadership development, and promoting the overall retention and advancement of this community. With a current membership of 384 faculty and staff members, APPID FSA hosts regular social events and an annual town hall meeting that serves as a cornerstone for this community. 

University of Montana
American Indian Support and Development Council (AISDC)
Since the mid-1990s, AISDC has been an informal group of faculty, staff, and students — including non-Native Americans — who meet monthly to share information about programs that serve Native American interests and provide a support network for members. The council serves as a place for Indigenous staff and faculty to come for support and to connect their students with other campus programs. It brings programs together to work collaboratively and to break outside the silos.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
First Generation Nebraska
The First Generation Nebraska (FGN) initiative helps first-generation students connect with faculty and staff advocates in order to establish a sense of community on campus and to provide students with the support they need to persist to graduation. FGN offers opportunities for social engagement between first-generation faculty, staff, and students. Knowing there is a community of advocates on campus who “were first, but not alone” is a powerful motivator for students. Over 300 faculty and staff are involved.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Carolina Black Caucus
Since 1974, the Carolina Black Caucus (CBC) consistently fosters, supports, and celebrates the achievement of Black employees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The CBC maintains an equitable campus community by engaging, empowering, and advocating for the retention of Black faculty, staff, and graduate students through monthly inclusive events and experiences — such as a Juneteenth celebration — that create opportunities for its more than 200 members to feel the love and support of their peers.

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Greensboro
Alianza, which is the Spanish word for alliance, is UNC Greensboro’s grassroots organization for Latinx and Hispanic faculty, staff, and students. Since its inception in 2013, Alianza has created initiatives that improve campus activities related to Hispanic/Latinx cultures and communities such as UNCG CHANCE, which stands for Campamento Hispano Abriendo Nuestro Camino a la Educación (UNCG Hispanic Camp Opening Our Way to Education). Through the camp, high school students are given the opportunity to simulate the college experience through mock classes and leadership activities. The association supports additional student success through its Latino Initiative organization, which provides a strategic framework to ensure Latinx student access, retention, and graduation and to support Latinx-focused scholarship.

University of Wyoming (UW)
Asian and Pacific Islander E-Net
In fall 2019, after receiving campus climate survey feedback from diverse faculty and staff and realizing the need for employee resource groups, UW launched the Asian American and Pacific Islander Employee Network (E-Net), which promotes a sense of identity, builds community, and encourages professional development for Asian American and Pacific Islanders across the institution. E-Nets are open to all faculty and staff and have a goal of meeting three times per semester to bring together employees with various years of experience and teaching backgrounds while providing a sense of belonging. Many employees share their stories at meetings and discover they have worked at the same institution for years yet have never had a chance to meet others in a social and community setting.●

Mariah Bohanon is the senior editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity. This article was published in our July/August 2020 issue.