Affinity groups find fellowship, make impact on campus

group of people standing
From left are Kip Smalligan, Naoki Kanaboshi, V'Lecea Hunter, Jenna Vainner, Tara Bivens, Jackie Adams, Jamillya Hardley, Adriana Almanza, Takeelia Garrett, Elizabeth Doyle and Jesse Bernal.
Image credit - Valerie Wojciechowski

Members of Grand Valley's nine faculty and staff affinity groups have found fellowship, connections to their cultural heritage and have made positive impacts on students through mentorship.

The groups are Asian Faculty and Staff Association, Black FSA, International Faculty and Friends, Interfaith Friendship Groups, Latino/a FSA, LGBT FSA, Native American Advisory Council, Positive Black Women and Women's Commission.

While some groups, like the Positive Black Women and Women's Commission, have a long history on campus, all affinity groups were moved under the Division of Inclusion and Equity, with support from Human Resources, in 2015.

Jesse Bernal, vice president for Inclusion and Equity, said the missions of the affinity groups align with the division's mission. "We’re honored to support those who serve Grand Valley through affinity groups and advance our commitment to inclusiveness and community," Bernal said. "Their work helps us to build institutional capacity to strengthen our mission by creating welcoming environments where all can safely and proudly be their authentic selves.” 

Julia VanderMolen, associate professor of public health, has been involved with the Asian FSA for two years and is mentoring five students who are health care majors.

"I cannot begin to state how much of a joy it is to watch them grow as professionals," VanderMolen said. "They are all passionate about making a difference in the field of health care and want to bring to light the importance of their Asian culture into their perspective areas of study."

Jenna Vainner, library specialist, University Libraries dean’s office, is co-chair of the Women’s Commission. Vainner said moving the commission under the umbrella of Inclusion and Equity means access to more resources such as regular meetings among all affinity group leaders.

“It has allowed us to create more connections with our fellow affinity groups, given us the opportunity to support their programming, and has given us a space to talk about issues related to inclusion and equity with leadership from Inclusion and Equity,” Vainner said.

More information about affinity groups is online at



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