Spotlight on… Affinity Groups! What are they? What do they do?

Merriam-Webster says an affinity group is “a group of people having a common interest or goal or acting together for a specific purpose.” That was our goal when we formed these groups within the Think College community. We started with just 3 groups in 2017—Research, Public Policy, and Vocational Rehabilitation. These groups meet online quarterly and they are growing! We are even adding new groups! Recent additions include affinity groups on Universal Design for Learning & Technology, Student Credentials, Emerging Advocates, and College-based Transition Services.

Clare Papay, facilitator of the Research Affinity Group, says, “The growing interest in these groups shows just how important it is for people working in inclusive higher education to come together to share experiences and advice. These meetings provide a space for people to talk to others outside of their immediate setting and raise issues and challenges they are encountering. Sometimes talking with someone who has gone through a similar challenging situation as you is just what you need to solve an issue or move forward with an idea. This type of group also allows flexibility in how much people want to participate: you can be a regular attendee and active participant at group meetings, or you can just drop in and listen as your schedule allows!”

Here are just some of the happenings across these groups:

RESEARCH: Regular features of this meeting include a review of accomplishments of group members and members presenting on their research studies. Members can bring research-related questions or challenges to the group and get feedback from a wide network of colleagues. This group has over 150 members, and work has recently begun to initiate two smaller working groups: one to provide support and accountability around writing projects and another to connect and provide support to doctoral students. The Research group is gearing up for its second in person meeting!

PUBLIC POLICY, VR, and STUDENT CREDENTIALS: These three groups realized that their work is very closely intertwined when it comes to inclusive higher education, so they recently began a series of special “crossover” meetings where members of each group are invited to join together to problem-solve and share professional expertise with others. Professionals, researchers, advocates, policymakers and educators are coming together to discuss current policy, legislation, and VR partnership around student credentials across higher education programs for students with ID.

EMERGING ADVOCATES: This group started because of the positive experiences at the 2019 Disability Policy Seminar, where a group of college students with intellectual disability attended to learn about current policy issues related to disability and higher education, and to learn how to advocate. Liz Weintraub facilitates these meetings, where students are invited to come and share—and supporters are welcome, too.

UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR LEARNING AND TECHNOLOGY: This group, launched in 2019, is designed for people who are interested in using technology and universal design for learning to support students of all abilities in higher education settings. At the meetings so far, facilitator Lori Cooney has demonstrated new apps and software and group members have shared other emerging technologies and approaches to using UDL. The group collaborated on student success criteria and aligned them with technology tools and resources to meet their diverse needs using a universal design for learning approach.

COLLEGE-BASED TRANSITION SERVICES (CBTS): This is a brand-new group, launching in September 2019, for transition teachers, special education administrators, and college staff and faculty who are working with students with intellectual disability who are still enrolled in high school. CBTS, also known as dual enrollment or inclusive concurrent enrollment, can provide excellent experience and support for high school students preparing for college.

Have an idea for a new affinity group? We developed the current slate of affinity groups to meet the needs that we heard about in the field. If you have an idea for a new affinity group, we would love to hear from you!