Institutional Scholarship

Affinity Groups: Commonality in Diversity

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Title: Affinity Groups: Commonality in Diversity
Author: Shookhoff, Alexandra
Advisor: Gillette, Maris
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Anthropology
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Running Time: 276409 bytes172823 bytes
Issue Date: 2006
Abstract: Over the past 40 years, student ethnic organizations have become widespread at institutions of higher learning, yet very little anthropological literature has examined ethnic identity in an educational context. In this work, I investigate the maintenance of cohesion within these organizations. Their very existence seems to assume a certain amount of commonality among members, yet, in reality, students come from exceptionally diverse backgrounds and experiences. I attempt to examine how groups negotiate their differences in order to create a common identity. Student ethnic organizations (or Affinity Groups as they are called at Haverford College, the locus for my fieldwork) first came into existence in the early ’60s and late ’70s. Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, students created Affinity Groups as a political weapon to bring equality to their colleges and universities. Over time, these organizations have expanded their roles to encompass one or more of four purposes: one, refuge from the mainstream community; two, cultural emissary; three, provision of academic aid; four, source of social activism. I conducted my fieldwork at Haverford College, where I joined three Affinity Groups: Alliance of Latin American Students (ALAS), Asian Student Association (ASA), and Black Students League (BSL). I attended meetings and activities sponsored by the groups and conducted interviews with club members as well as faculty and administration. Several theoretical approaches to ethnicity influenced my analysis of these groups. Barth’s theory of boundary maintenance, referred to as circumstantialist, helped frame how groups distinguish themselves from the rest of the college community. Primordialist theory, which claims an intrinsic attachment among members of the same ethnic group, and instrumentalist theory, which posits that ethnic groups are formed out of utility to create effective political weapons, both aided my understanding of how members found commonality within their groups. I found that each Affinity Group took a different approach to forming a shared ethnic identity. This suggests that one theory of ethnicity is not sufficient for all circumstances. Instead, we must develop an approach that considers the social, political, and historical contexts of each ethnic group.
Subject: College students -- United States -- Societies, etc
Access Restrictions: Open Access
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Shookhoff, Alexandra. "Affinity Groups: Commonality in Diversity". 2006. Available electronically from

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