Affinity Groups at The Mountaineers

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 everyone?

Updated November 4, 2021; 8:00pm.

What is an affinity group?

An affinity group is a group of people linked by a shared identity, experience, or goal. Affinity groups are often formed around a common gender, age, or ethnicity, or race, but they can also be built around a common goal, like staying sober.

Does the Mountaineers have affinity groups?

Yes! Affinity groups are a great way to build community, especially within our larger branches. We currently have the Retired Rovers, MountainQueers, and a partnership with Climbers of Color. 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 their 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 their story online.

Do Affinity groups have their own committees?

No. Generally, committees at The Mountaineers are formed around a specific activity type. Leaders of affinity groups need to be certified as leaders through our other activities (for example, if someone wants to lead a MountainQueers hike, they need to be a certified Hike Leader). Then, if you are interested in leading an affinity activity, all you need to do is check the appropriate group when you list your activity on our website. 

However, if you're interested in creating an informal committee through our website to support planning for an affinity group, we're happy to help. Email kristinac@mountaineers.org to establish a new affinity group.

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?