Let's Talk About Affinity Groups

What is an affinity group, and how does that impact our community at The Mountaineers? Learn more about our existing affinity groups, and how to create your own group of individuals with shared experiences!
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
May 17, 2018

As a part of Vision 2022, The Mountaineers is committed to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. Affinity groups are an important part of that equation, but we often receive questions about exactly why or how affinity groups support this initiative. If we're striving for diversity and inclusion, shouldn't all of our activities be open to anyone?

What is an affinity group?

An affinity group is a group of people linked by a common interest, purpose, or shared experience. Affinity groups are often formed around a common gender, age, or ethnicity, but they could also be based on something like working for the same employer.

Does the Mountaineers allow affinity groups?

Yes! Affinity groups are a great way to build community, especially within our larger branches. We currently have a Singles Activities Committee in Tacoma, the Retired Rovers in Seattle, and we have had some women's specific activities and LGTBQ climbing nights in the past.

From Mountaineers staff and volunteer climb leader Tess Wendel.

One of the reasons I became a climb leader was because of the support of my women's climbing mentor group during my first and second year as an intermediate student. Every other month we'd have a potluck at a member's house which was a great place to share climbing goals and perhaps more importantly apprehensions we had about all things climbing. It was a safe place to ask for additional help and guidance and to be inspired by others working towards similar goals.

Why do affinity groups need their own outings? That’s discrimination!

Affinity groups are important because they often give people a stronger sense of belonging within a larger community. In an organization like The Mountaineers, this can be particularly important for individuals who are in the minority; some people feel safer in a group of people with whom they physically or culturally identify. 

Additional benefits of affinity groups

  • Different groups can relate to the outdoors in different ways.
  • Places of safety often start with a common understanding of struggle and privilege.
  • Comfort is important, and we don’t always need to be pushing the limits of our comfort zone.
  • Encouraging a more diverse culture increases an organization's reach and accessibility to more diverse communities.

Fostering emotional safety

Safety isn't just about helmets and life jackets. Emotional safety is key for a positive experience in the outdoors, and affinity groups help ensure that individuals have a safe and comfortable space to recreate. 

Ambreen Tariq, founder of @BrownPeopleCamping, describes the importance of safety and belonging at length in her blog I Would But: I Am The Only Person of Color.

If you have never experienced feeling out of place because of the color of your skin, gender, sexuality or some other diverse characteristic, you may wonder: Why is that even an obstacle? Just get out there, enjoy the outdoors, and ignore the fact that no one else looks like you.

It’s just not that simple. Trying something new — something that requires learning new skills and information — is hard enough. But feeling out of place in a seemingly homogeneous community can put you at a further disadvantage. I have struggled with these anxieties my whole life. As a woman of color and someone who started exploring the outdoors only a few years ago, I often find myself saying no to new outdoors activities because I lack the courage to challenge my self-doubt and to do so while feeling uncomfortable or fearful of being the only person of color in that space.

And please don’t disregard my discomfort with being a minority in the outdoors as a personal flaw that is unique to someone who is overly racially sensitive. Needing community and empathy is part of the human condition.

Mountaineers member Bam Mendiola also describes this feeling in his magazine article Becoming Backwoods Barbie.

"Before I climb, I count the ounces that I carry on my back judiciously. Prudent and discerning, I take only what I need and leave the rest behind. The heaviest load, however, is invisible. Homophobia, fatphobia, and racism take up space in my life — on my back — and weigh me down."

Read the rest of his story online.

Do Affinity groups have to have their own committees?

Definitely not! Most of our committees at The Mountaineers are formed around a specific activity type. If you are interested in organizing a group of individuals with shared experiences, consider hosting a potluck or a specific trip associated with an already-established activity committee at The Mountaineers. Many groups also find success creating community and promoting their events and activities through social media.

How do I start my own group?

The Member Services team can be a good place to start these conversations and to help you get connected with a branch or committee to sponsor your group. Often times, if you aren't sure what level of interest there might be for a particular group, it can be good to get an event on the calendar a month or so in advance so that people have plenty of time to pencil it in and for you to do outreach. Member Services can also provide support creating a survey to gauge community interest.

If you want to reach out directly  to your committee or branch chair, you can click on 'My Branch' from your profile. This will take you to your branch page, where you can click the 'About' section to find your branch chair or select 'Courses & Activities' to find links to current branch activity committees. Don't hesitate to contact Member Services about the logistics of posting activities or events on the website. You are always welcome to call the team at 206-521-6001 or by email at info@mountaineers.org.

References & Additional Reading

The following is a list of great articles pertaining to affinity groups and single-identity spaces. Please share additional resources in the comments!

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David Sucher
David Sucher says:
Nov 24, 2018 06:46 AM

Are hikes etc organized by Mountain-Queers open to any member?