Affinity groups offer employees connection


Dr. Kenny E. Yarbrough, Associate Vice Chancellor of the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Support Programs

Felicity Knabenbauer, Lifestyle Editor

One of the worst things about the human experience is loneliness. This can be in many aspects of our lives whether it be at home, in our community or even in our workspace. This loneliness can be intensified when you have unique qualities about yourself that not many others share. The need for inclusivity and togetherness among the employees of the University of Wisconsin Whitewater was something that Dr. Kenny E. Yarbrough, the Associate Vice Chancellor of the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Support Programs, could not ignore. 

This led to the creation of four Affinity groups on campus. Each group will have a forum for employees to either come to in person or join online during the WebEx. The Employees of Color forum will be Monday, Feb. 21. The Global Employees forum will be Tuesday, Feb. 22. The LGBTQ+ Employees forum will be Wednesday, Feb. 23. The Veteran Employees forum will be Thursday, Feb 24. All Affinity Groups will take place in the Old Main Ballroom, University Center 275, starting at 3:30 p.m.

“All the Affinity groups are my brain children, so for my role as the affinity diversity officer I thought it imperative to bring our employees together with their specific affinity. We started this in 2019 so we weren’t able to do much in the 2020 to 2021 school year because of covid, so I am happy to bring this around for another time. It is important to have these Affinity groups, so people know they’re not the only one. When you’re looking at say, veteran employees, they may not know that there are other veterans around and that they share the same experiences. It’s important as employees to be able to find comradery and affinity with other people that share your same affinity. It helps to build a sense of belongingness; it helps to build a sense of cohesion and it helps the employees to know in the end that they are not the only one who has that particular identity,” said Yarbrough. 

Kris McMenamin, the moderator of the veteran employee Affinity group as well as the Coordinator of Military and Veteran Student Services agrees whole heartily with this statement.

“The few veteran staff that I know of, I have been talking to them about some of the things we are hoping to accomplish with these groups and trying to foster support and interest within the staff.  I am hoping with the Affinity meeting, that what I have found with veteran students, is that we can send out emails and we can have WebEx seminars and we can do all of these things but nothing really happens until we get people from these groups in the same room together. I don’t think there’s any replacement for the chemistry that happens when you bring people together and I think that’s an important part to this,” said McMenamin.

Not only do these spaces bring together those of the same feather but also gives a safe place to those who need it. Stephanie Selvick, the moderator of the LGBTQ+ Employees Affinity group as well as the campus LBGTQ+ coordinator, finds it important for these employees to meet with each other for personal and community empowerment.

“The LGBTQ+ Affinity Group will provide space and structure for LGBTQ+ employees to connect, build community, and organize. Ideally, the University is here to serve and support all students, faculty, and staff. In order to meet those equity promises, we must hear from populations that are often overlooked and underserved,” said Selvick.

Some employees are feeling the stress from being far away from their loved ones and community back in their home countries. Jodi Simek, the moderator for the Global Employees Affinity group as well as the International Education Manager of International Students and Scholars Services sees it as their goal to be inclusive.

“The Global Affinity Group is open to all employees who feel that a global experience is part of their identity. Some examples include, but are not limited to, living outside of the United States, immigration to the United States and conducting research interests outside of the United States,” said Simek. 

Not only is it important for staff to have a somewhere to meet with others 

that they relate too but for students to see this community building happening right in front of them.

“Students need to see diverse people at the university so they can see their place in society as well. It’s a win-win all the way around knowing that when the students graduate and join the workforce they should seek out that affinity in their respective areas as well,” said Dr. Yarbrough.

While not every workplace in America has Affinity groups it can be argued that there should be. When employees have others who they relate to it can make the work environment a much more pleasant place to be overall.

To find the WebEx link for the Employees of Color Affinity group forum click the link HERE

To find the WebEx link for the Global Employees Affinity group forum click the link HERE

To find the WebEx link for the LGBTQ+ Affinity group forum click the link HERE To find the WebEx link for the Veteran Employees Affinity group forum click the link HERE