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Rising Senior Mia Pickett is a Princeton Prize in Race Relations: Certificate of Accomplishment Recipient for Contributions to Seattle Academy BSU

Photo of Seattle Academy Mia Pickett Princeton Prize 2021

Seattle Academy created affinity groups in 2019 and we haven’t looked back since. In fact, we can’t imagine SAAS without dedicated spaces for groups who share a common identity and can come together and speak from the “I” perspective. Taking a look back, the inclusion and creation of affinity groups truly speaks to our dynamic community. Taylor Kanemori, our Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion since 2018, and Danaë Howe, Assistant Head of Middle School, helped officially enact these groups, as well as students, faculty and staff members Rick Dupree, Zac Townsend, and many more. What did this process look like? How was it received? How can other schools and communities bring affinity groups to their spaces? 

Let’s dive into the creation timeline of the Black Student Union (BSU), the first affinity group to be erected at SAAS, to get a sense of what went into this process. 

2018-19 School Year

Seattle Academy welcomed the incoming class of freshmen and among them was Mia Pickett ’22. Mia came from Seattle Girls School, an all-girls middle school where they had affinity groups and where she had come to appreciate what these spaces offer. Affinity groups thrive within the school setting because the goal behind them is to make sure everyone’s identity is being accurately represented. Identity-exploration is a critical part of the education process. “It is important to have these [affinity] spaces for people to be themselves, amongst others who identify similarly, and also to hear different perspectives because not everyone feels the same way,” explains Mia.  

Taylor Kanemori and Danaë Howe felt the same way. Together they, along with fellow faculty and staff, began laying the foundation for officially initiating a SAAS BSU and other identity-based affinity groups. Taylor gives us a lens:  

Danaë and I knew that if we were going to create these spaces for students we needed to talk to our students: what were they looking for? What did they need in these safe spaces? Once we heard what they wanted we visited around five peer schools grades 6-12 to see how affinity spaces were rolled out, logistics on where and when they met, and what pushback they had received. Coming back with some more ideas and language around their importance, we worked with Laila and Mia to see what a BSU could look like here, including leadership structures and a budget for all groups. These plans really created a map for all other affinity groups to emerge. As soon as we launched the BSU and announced it to the school, I had two students come forward to ask for a LatinX affinity group and from there, using the groundwork laid by the BSU’s efforts, the groups kept emerging.  

However, BSU is only as strong as its members. This is where Mia and her now alumna sister Laila ’20 started doing the most important and simple act: they made time to be in the same space. As Taylor and others were taking steps to officially enact a BSU, Mia and Laila began meetings and collaborated by sending over goals and ideas to administration like Taylor.  

Within a few weeks, they had maybe 15 students join via word of mouth. “A lot of Black students need a space and a lot of other students need a space,” explains Mia. “For me, it is really important to be in an affinity group; it is a great place for students to embrace their identity or get started on learning how to embrace their identity because not everyone has had the opportunity to do that. [BSU] is a very welcoming community.”

2019-20 School Year

BSU took some solid footing and really began living the realized goals that Mia, Laila, Taylor, Danaë, and the other BSU students had envisioned. 

 “Taylor helped us with coordinating times, connecting us with other students, gathering faculty — just all of it,” Mia says with gratitude. “Her work with affinity groups and advancing racial diversity is incredible, and without her, BSU would not have gotten as far as it has. She always amplified student voices amongst admin and was set on helping us succeed.”

2020-21 School Year

This year was Mia’s first official year running BSU at Seattle Academy and she ran the group alongside Erin Howard ’23. “I just wanted to do it for all the other Black students who were going to come into SAAS,” explains Mia, simply. “I now run BSU alongside Erin, and helped form the group in its early stages. But so many amazing people helped BSU develop...it was a collaboration amongst a couple of Black students, myself included, who wanted to see change.” 

A humble explanation for a significant contribution is how we see it — and also how Princeton University sees it. In May of this year, Mia received a Princeton Prize in Race Relations: Certificate of Accomplishment, a national award that recognizes and rewards high school students who, through their volunteer activities, have undertaken significant efforts to advance racial equity and understanding in their schools or communities. Mia received a Certificate of Accomplishment for her contributions to BSU at Seattle Academy. We are incredibly proud of Mia for this accomplishment and the lasting contributions that she made to our school. 

2021-22 School Year

Starting next year, Mia has been asked to run the city-wide BSU where leaders from BSU groups at several independent schools come together — including U-Prep, Lakeside, Overlake, and more — to pass along information like how to keep meetings engaging and high-level discussions on how to talk to schools about race. 

“Next year, I definitely want to continue expanding BSU by encouraging more Black students to come,” says Mia. “And also want to open up meetings to the rest of the school so other students can come and ask questions. I want to celebrate more Black holidays and host more events… we want to celebrate our Blackness.”  

If you are interested in joining an affinity group at SAAS, or want to learn more about what affinity groups we have, check out the Inclusive Community page on our website or reach out to Taylor Kanemori and Danaë Howe. 

Follow the Seattle Academy Black Student Union (BSU) on Instagram for more news and updates throughout the year.

‘“The reason why affinity groups exist in the first place isn’t because students want to segregate themselves from the rest of the population,’ Fine points out, ‘but because the population is excluding them to begin with.’ Gathering in safe spaces around shared identity allows students to engage in conversations about how they can subvert the structures that push them to the margins. In turn, these conversations ‘push the school to be more social-activist-oriented and less assimilationist-oriented,’ says Fine.”

- From “Making Space” an article by Monita K. Bell; Published by Learning for Justice; 

Quoting Darnell Fine, 7th-Grade English Teacher and Middle School Diversity Coordinator