Affinity groups are a new way of bringing people together on campuses and in the workplace that emerged out of the desire of office and factory workers in the 1960s to meet and organize around shared values and goals. The first affinity groups (sometimes called Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs) likely emerged during the civil rights struggle and included teams like IBM’s Black Networking Group that helped bring about greater workplace equity at the company.
At the University of Utah, student affinity groups are a great way to connect with those who share similar interests and backgrounds, organize and collaborate on projects, network, and find your U Crew! For students, they can also be a fun way to meet others and socialize, make new friends, and cultivate a sense of belonging on campus.
A sense of belonging is key to the role that affinity groups now play on college campuses—and it’s why they’re part of Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion’s “Celebrating U Completely” campaign. In one recent study, researchers found that college students who felt that they belonged at their institutions experienced “better persistence, engagement, and mental health.” Predictably, they also performed better academically and were more likely to graduate.
“Any team needs to have a strong sense of belonging to stay competitive and unified,” says Keith Embray, associate athletics director for equity, diversity, & inclusion and student belonging. The former NFL pro and college standout should know. Before he returned to the U in ‘22, he played defensive tackle/end for a number of pro teams, including the Tennessee Titans during their Super Bowl season in 2000. “Teams win together—but the individual members need to feel connected and valued in order to put their best effort forward and go as far as they can,” he says. The same is true for universities where students tend to perform and feel their best when they feel that sense of belonging and connection to campus. “It just makes sense,” Embray adds, “the best teams aren’t always the ones with the best players, but the ones where really good players are unified by strong bonds.”
Affinity groups allow members to build those strong bonds with others while coming together to socialize, have fun, and work toward a common goal. Some affinity groups highlight the ethnic, cultural, or familial backgrounds of members—such as MEChA or the Pacific Islander Student Association (PISA). Some are focused on specific objectives—such as the delivery of better healthcare. Others, like the Out for Business student group, emphasize the career-oriented goals of its members. But all of them convene because they believe there is strength in numbers—and they encourage members to build stronger bonds and thrive, both individually and as a whole.
There are nearly 600 student organizations listed on Campus Connect—and the U Alumni Affinity Chapters offer graduates the opportunity to maintain a strong sense of community even after graduation. The number of groups means there’s something for everyone—and students are encouraged to explore EDI’s Celebrating U Completely page to learn about its many resources for connection. Whatever your interests might be, EDI wants everyone to find their U Crew.