Michigan Schools DEI Director Wants Affinity Spaces With No White People Allowed
Ingham County district risks a civil rights case, say attorneys who examined issue
The director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Holt Public Schools recently circulated an internal memo mentioning his desire to set up private spaces within a school for minority students, with white people not allowed. This, Matt Morales said, was “equity work in creating a more inclusive learning community.”
Morales said he wrote the post to explain his efforts to set up affinity spaces, or areas where people who share certain characteristics can meet. His memo stated that an affinity space for Black people had already been created.
His memo included a link to an article written by Kelsey Blackwell and posted on a website called the Arrow Journal. It carried the title “Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People.”
The article states: “We need spaces where we can be our authentic selves without white people’s judgment and insecurity muzzling that expression. We need spaces where we can simply be—where we can get off the treadmill of making white people comfortable and finally realize just how tired we are... The values of whiteness are the water in which we all swim. No one is immune. Those values dictate who speaks, how loud, when, the words we use, what we don’t say, what is ignored, who is validated and who is not.”
Holt Public Schools Superintendent David Hornak did not respond to an email seeking comment. As of the current school year, 58% of students in the Lansing-area school district are white.
A 2018 analysis of affinity groups conducted by three Michigan-licensed attorneys was posted on the American Bar Association website. It included the following:
“Because affinity groups are often based on protected characteristics such as race, sex, age, or disability, employers must proceed with caution. Dealing with affinity groups brings an inherent risk of violating laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics. The case law addressing how anti-discrimination laws affect affinity groups is sparse, potentially exposing employers to unforeseen and unpredictable liability... Focusing on a particular demographic does not mean an affinity group can discriminate in accepting members. This is not always obvious to affinity groups. This lack of understanding by employer sanctioned affinity groups could expose the employer to liability for the group’s unlawful discrimination.”
The analysis concludes, “Additionally, public employers should consider whether disciplinary action or otherwise regulating affinity-group activity may infringe upon employees’ free speech or other constitutional rights.”
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