Affinity Spaces

By: Irfan Toor  •  April 29, 2022  •  (6 min read)

Over the last few months, we have been able to implement one of our goals and recommendations from the 2020 Census Report – the creation of identity-based affinity spaces.

An affinity group is composed of individuals who have a shared aspect of their identity, usually an aspect that is underrepresented or even undervalued in society. 

One of the purposes of these groups or spaces is to provide opportunities to share and talk about common experiences in a safe space. Over the past few years, many workplaces and school boards have been creating employee resource groups or affinity networks for staff or students, but the OPC felt it was important to create spaces that were just for administrators. 

The job of a school administrator is isolating by nature – you may be the only person in your building with that role or your team is made up of only a few people. Over the years, an "us vs them" environment may have been fostered by other employee groups or in response to job action or other situations. Your role comes with positional power that sometimes people see as a barrier to relationships and in addition administrators are possibly moved before they get a chance to develop deeper relationships. Add to that an aspect of your identity that marginalizes you and the isolation is compounded. In all of my roles in schools, I was always one of only a few racialized staff, and by the time I was a principal, I was also the only racialized person on staff. The geography of my last school board also meant that there weren't many administrators or even staff in the entire system who were racialized. Affinity spaces are one way we can in part mitigate this isolation. 

We all benefit from interactions with people who share common identities or experiences.

We all benefit from interactions with people who share common identities or experiences. Based on the demographics of many OPC Districts across the province, there are many individual administrators who could also experience the compounding aspects of isolation. The global pandemic forced us to accept virtual gatherings as something that was possible, and using that to our advantage, our virtual affinity spaces can help create community for Members who can't access it in their local regions. For some aspects of identity that are not visible, the spaces also allow someone to join without having to share that aspect of their identity locally if they choose not to. For instance, our Census indicated that some members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community don't feel safe sharing that aspect of their identity in their system.  

We have been building our affinity groups around Members who have been willing to offer feedback, make requests or volunteer to take on the facilitation. The OPC helps with some of the logistical aspects of promotion of meetings and registration for the first meeting, but otherwise participation is not monitored or reported. As well, we offer resources, support and facilitator training to affinity group hosts. 

I want to acknowledge that there are some people who feel that affinity spaces are exclusive or divisive. It's true that we all benefit from interactions with diverse identities and those interactions provide opportunities for shared learning.

I believe we  have to get away from some of the binary thinking around that. Both situations can exist. Affinity spaces provide time and space away for underrepresented identities, but that’s a small amount of time compared to the amount of time spent with the dominant identities. That's why for some, affinity spaces are a time for healing, a time to code switch and 'be themselves' or a time without constant microaggressions. I've also heard people ask for spaces for dominant identities. That's possible, but frankly, they already exist, even though they may not be named and timed. If you are part of a dominant identity, you likely have many opportunities to be in spaces where your identity is reflected. It may not be at work, but it likely exists in other parts of your life - recreation, hobbies, general society or social groups. As a heterosexual male, I am not short of opportunities where those aspects of my identity are normalized, reinforced or reflected as I navigate through my personal or professional activities. The same is not true of my racialized identity and so I am thankful that over the years, and especially in my current role, I have been able to build my network of people who can share in some of my experiences and also help me value my identity in a way that dominant society doesn't always allow. 

Our OPC Member affinity spaces will evolve over time. Some will be added, some may run their course, while others will hopefully grow and find new purposes for themselves. Throughout that time, I hope that the spaces will serve the purpose of providing safety, bravery, strength and pride. If you are interested in finding out more about affinity spaces or are interested in joining or creating one, please take a look at our Affinity Groups for Members page on our website, or reach out to me at