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Community in Action – Upper School

 

The Upper School DEIJ Office at Milton Academy seeks to develop, implement, and manage programs and initiatives with the goal of fostering a sense of connection and belonging for students. Our team strives to facilitate support for students, parents, and Upper School employees.

Featured Initiatives

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Promotes Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Island cultures through weekly meetings and activities. In addition to their regular meetings, the Asian Society supports production of the Loose Leaf student publication and engages in Boston’s Chinatown on a regular basis, tutoring and providing English support.

Faculty advisors: Nicole Darling and Vivian Wu Wong

New Student Orientation Program

All students should be seen and embraced for the many parts of themselves and the range of identities they hold, and to feel they are an integral part of the culture of our school. To accomplish this goal, we believe that members of our community must be engaged in exploration, conversation, and learning about issues of identity, culture, and injustice. Through understanding ourselves, validating and engaging with others, and working together to learn and offer perspectives, we increase the appreciation for the unique community we have.

Before the arrival of returning students, all new Upper School students spend time together on campus. New Student Orientation is a space where students learn what the expectations of the Milton community are, and what it means to contribute to Milton’s commitment to inclusion and equity. This programming encourages connections and community across identities; provides all new students with resources, guidance, and support as they explore their identities; and begins to offer tools and practices to support healthy cross-cultural interactions.

Transition Program

Milton’s Transition Program is almost four decades old, and serves as an optional orientation experience for new students of color and international students in addition to the New Student Orientation Program. This program seeks to help students develop a sense of belonging at Milton; foster a community of inclusivity, openness, growth, respect, and understanding; and recognize and celebrate a range of identities. At Transitions, students of color and international students work with faculty, engage in discussions about identity, and participate in activities both on and off campus.

All School Programming

Throughout the academic year, Milton holds weekly all-school programming time. These community common times range from conversations in advisory, visits by outside speakers, to special events and assemblies hosted by student groups and the Department of Equity, Inclusion, and Justice. These blocks of time are designed to educate the community on issues of interest and concern and often focus on fostering mutual respect and personal responsibility.

Student Publications
Azaad

Multicultural literary and art magazine published each semester that serves as a platform to discuss diverse community narratives surrounding race, class, sexuality, gender, religion, and ability.

The F-Word

A biannual journal aiming to initiate dialogue around gender equality and feminism through an intersectional lens.

La Voz

Milton’s Spanish-language student online newspaper. Featuring monthly updates, La Voz gives Spanish language students at Level III or higher the opportunity to contribute in Spanish on topics at Milton, in the United States or abroad, or more broadly concerning the Spanish-speaking community.

Loose Leaf

Biannual magazine covering Pan-Asian issues, both abroad and in the United States. Students are encouraged to contribute to express their personal experiences and their political and creative opinions on Asian and Asian-American issues and culture.

Host Family Program

The Host Family Program is designed to support new boarding students as they become comfortable in their “home away from home.” During their transition to boarding life, students may experience loneliness or miss the haven of a family home away from the busyness of campus life. The host family, most often a family of a day student or nearby boarding student, helps make that transition easier. The program is flexible, based on a student’s need for support and what a particular host family is able to provide.

Deep Dive Opportunities for Social Justice Engagement

Students interested in more fully exploring issues of identity and social justice may apply for funding to participate in various student conferences, including the National Association of Independent Schools’ Student Diversity Leadership Conference, the Association of Independent Schools of New England’s Students of Color Conference, and the City School Advanced Social Justice Leadership Institute. Through intensive discussion and multi-day experiences, students develop skills in advocacy and learn how to strengthen equity and inclusion work on campus.

DEIJ Student Leadership Opportunities

The Department of Equity, Inclusion, and Justice is an office that values the input of student voice. The DEIJ Sounding Board was created as an effort to create leadership opportunities for students, empowering them to engage deeply in the work of galvanizing student programming and creating initiatives in all branches of community life to make a difference in the student experience at Milton.

Teaching and Learning

The DEIJ office supports all employees through their growth in equity, inclusion, and justice. Through speaker series, professional learning days, workshops, and one-on-one support, Milton employees learn and grow together. All employees of Milton attend a multi-day program with VISIONS, Inc., a nonprofit organization specializing in diversity and inclusion training and consulting, and regularly participate in in-house training during meetings and professional development days. Frequently attended conferences by Milton employees include The NAIS People of Color Conference, Diversity Directions Independent School Seminar, TABS, The White Privilege Conference, Asian-American Footsteps Conference, and The Stanley H. King Institute.

Identity and Affinity Programming

The Upper School offers a host of affinity spaces and cultural groups for students across a wide range of identities including gender, ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, and race. Student leaders work with adults to create spaces that are affirming for identity development and supportive of cross-cultural interactions. These spaces exist for groups of people who are drawn together because of a specific shared identity with the intention of finding connection, support, and inspiration. Affinity spaces are distinct from Milton Academy’s cultural groups.

Cultural groups share some similarities in that they are formed around identity categories, and have student leaders and adult sponsors, but are different in that they are open to any member of the student community whether or not they identify with the identity being explored by the group. Cultural groups provide the wider community with opportunities to learn about, support, and celebrate the unique qualities of an identity.

Culture Clubs

(click titles to view descriptions)

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Promotes Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Island cultures through weekly meetings and activities. In addition to their regular meetings, the Asian Society supports production of the Loose Leaf student publication and engages in Boston’s Chinatown on a regular basis, tutoring and providing English support.

Faculty advisors: Nicole Darling and Vivian Wu Wong

Asian Society
Promotes Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Island cultures through weekly meetings and activities. In addition to their regular meetings, the Asian Society supports production of the Loose Leaf student publication and engages in Boston’s Chinatown on a regular basis, tutoring and providing English support.

Faculty advisors: Nicole Darling and Vivian Wu Wong

Caribbean Student Association
Provides a space for students of Caribbean descent to share their culture with each other and with the broader community.

Faculty advisor: Chris Lewis

Christian Fellowship
Provides an open and friendly environment for Christians and those interested in Christian faith. The club welcomes people of all backgrounds to join and discuss the relevance of Christianity in society.

Faculty advisor: Akin Adeboye

GASP! (Gender and Sexuality Perspectives)
GASP! provides a safe space for LGBTQ+ people and their allies to discuss issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, educate others, and provide support to people of all orientations.

Faculty advisor: Hubert Hwang

International Student Association
The International Student Association celebrates the range of international identities and cultures represented within the Milton community. The group discusses the social, political and cultural events and issues in the home countries of our students, sharing culture and cultural food while discussing issues of living in a different country.

Faculty advisor: Tasha Otenti

Jewish Student Union
JSU discusses issues of concern to the Jewish community within Milton and beyond. All students, regardless of their religion, race or ethnicity, are welcome to join and encouraged to share their thoughts, opinions, and ideas. JSU holds community Seders to share important cultural and religious celebrations.

Faculty advisors: Josh Furst

Latinx Association
Promotes awareness of Latinx/Hispanic culture in the United States and abroad through social and cultural activities.

Faculty advisors: Melissa Figueroa and Jenny Romero

Multi
Multi is a discussion group for biracial and multiracial students. In addition to club meetings, Multi also hosts Milton Moth open-mic events focused on issues of identity and community.

Faculty advisor: Matt Blanton

Muslim Student Association
A discussion group focused on issues relating to Islam and Muslim identity. MSA holds an annual Iftar celebration during Ramadan.

Faculty advisor: Terri James Solomon

Onyx
An organization through which Black students can find social, cultural, and political support among their peers through weekly meetings and activities. Membership is open to all students who are interested in appreciating, respecting, and learning about the Black experience.

Faculty advisor: Chris Lewis

SAGE (Students Advocating for Gender Equity)
SAGE is focused on discussion of issues related to gender equity as well as raising awareness for such issues in the community.
SAMENA (South Asian, Middle Eastern (West Asian), and North African students)
SAMENA values the intersections between South Asian, Middle Eastern, and North African cultures, and serves as a place to unite over similarities, learn from differences, and celebrate each other.

Faculty advisor: Lu Adami

Affinity Spaces

(click titles to view descriptions)

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Promotes Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Island cultures through weekly meetings and activities. In addition to their regular meetings, the Asian Society supports production of the Loose Leaf student publication and engages in Boston’s Chinatown on a regular basis, tutoring and providing English support.

Faculty advisors: Nicole Darling and Vivian Wu Wong

Advocates for Diverse Abilities
Affinity group for students with learning disabilities and differences to share experiences and strategies of working to thrive.

Faculty Advisor: Murielle St. Paul

African Student Association
ASA engages in discussion related to life on the African continent and provides support and encouragement to African-identified students.
Asian Affinity
The Asian Affinity provides a space for students who identify as being of Asian descent.
LGBTQ+ Affinity
Milton provides three confidential affinity spaces for students who identify as living within the LGBTQ+ community. We currently support a GASP Out Group, a QPOC (Queer People of Color) group, and a Trans/Non-binary group for students who identify as transgender or gender non-binary or non-conforming. All spaces work to ensure that LGBTQ+ students have the opportunity to feel seen and affirmed.
ISC Affinity
ISC affinity provides space for international students to explore more personally the cultural adjustments they make both at School and at home, navigating language differences, travel and visa issues, and other relevant issues of concern.
Brother/NB Bonding
An affinity group to support the social and personal development of Black and Latinx male/non-binary students. Biweekly meetings provide an informal, relaxed space for students to talk openly, with each other and with an adult advisor, about the experiences and challenges of being a Black or Latinx student at Milton.

Brother/NB Bonding advisor: Maverick Jacobs

Jaded Matrix
Jaded Matrix advisor: Rachael Abernethy

Meet the Team

Melissa Lawlor

Director of Equity and Inclusion 

Melissa leads the Upper School team’s justice, equity, and inclusion efforts. An independent school veteran with over 15 years of experience, Melissa arrived at Milton from Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, NH. At Brewster, Melissa served as the director of equity and inclusion, where she also directed the upper school Social Emotional Learning program, was the faculty advisor of the BIPOC Student Union and the Trey Whitfield School Mentoring Program, and the head coach of the Girls Varsity Lacrosse team. She is the co-founder of the Network for Independent School Equity (NISE), an affinity focused group in Northern New England for faculty who identify as BIPOC and/or LGBTQ+. During the summer, she is the lead faculty for the Association for Independent Schools in New England’s Leadership and Racial Justice Fellows Program. A Northern California native and former 3-sport college athlete, Melissa is currently working toward her doctorate in Educational Leadership at Boston College.

Maverick Jacobs

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Community Coordinator

A native of South Jersey, Maverick is a graduate of Gordon College where he studied Biology and Secondary Education while serving as a resident advisor and teaching assistant. He also attended The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania where he was a four-time varsity letter winner in football and baseball, secretary for the Students of Color Association (S.O.C.A.), and served as a Head Prefect. Maverick comes to Milton from Christ School in Asheville, North Carolina where he served as the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Coordinator, taught 8th grade science and biology, resided as a dorm parent, and coached football and baseball.

Tasha Otenti

Director of International Student Services

Tasha is the Director of International Student Services. In addition to providing structured support for international students and their families, Tasha serves as faculty advisor to International Students Club and Affinity. Tasha loves supporting international students and helping them root down as they make Milton home. She enjoys the community created in international student spaces—eating (a lot), laughing, and talking—whether in club or affinity or on a long weekend trip or retreat. Frequent topics include managing homesickness, culture shock, and language differences; what it means to find one’s stride in discussion-based classes; and what it means to honor one’s heritage while studying in the United States. Tasha enjoys exploring the relationship between food and the soul, especially when it comes to eating kimchi and Korean cuisine. She also loves practicing Bikram hot yoga.

Molly Swain

Team Member

Molly is in her eighth year as a faculty member at Milton. Through her many roles as the director of professional learning, a visual arts teaching faculty, a coach, a faculty council member, and a class dean, Molly works with the DEIJ team in a variety of ways. As a member of the DEIJ, Molly brings particular focus to the education of whiteness, white privilege, and white supremacy culture. Molly’s work permeates through athletics, admissions, class deans programming, and faculty development. Molly is from the Boston area, growing up in Cambridge, MA and now she lives in downtown Boston. Molly holds a Masters in Teaching and a BFA in Painting from Boston University and a Masters of Education from the Teachers College in Independent School Leadership. 

Community Profiles

Adriana Ruiz

MA ‘23, Co-Head, Latinx

How would you describe your experience in the LatinX affinity group?

Throughout my time in the Latinx group, I feel like I have been able to make friendships and find a community on campus where I can be vulnerable and be authentic about my experiences with my culture.

 

What is your favorite part of being in that space?

My favorite part about being in the group is getting to talk about shared experiences and hearing other perspectives. I’ve gotten to learn so much about different parts of my own culture. Growing up, aside from my family, I never got to interact with other Latinx community members. It’s been amazing knowing I’m now a part of further establishing this community on campus for future Latinx students to learn more about all the amazing parts of our community. 

 

Could you highlight a meaningful experience or moment that came out of your time in the space?

The most meaningful parts for me that have happened during my time in this group have been when non-Latinx identifying students have attended our meetings. It’s awesome leaving those meetings knowing that someone had come because they wanted to learn more and hopefully they leave appreciating more about the culture. It makes me feel seen and that the club is making a difference. 

 

What is something you appreciate about the affinity and culture clubs on campus?

Something that I appreciate about the other cultures is when I go to their meetings and get to learn something new. Every single culture club and affinity space on campus is unique. I’m proud knowing how many different sides there are to the Milton community. I want to support these groups because I know how great it feels to be supported, so attending these meetings or hearing affinity groups speak at assemblies is important so that I know how to support them as a student that does not identify with their group but does respect the culture and stories that they have to share.

Vivian WuWong

History Department, Asian Society and Asian Affinity Faculty Advisor

How did you get involved with Asian Society as a faculty advisor?

In the late 1980’s, there were no Asian American teachers at Milton. To diversify the faculty and address the needs of Milton’s Asian international and Asian American students, Ed Fredie, Milton’s first African American Head of School, had Christine Savini, Milton’s first Director of Diversity, recruit Asian American faculty. Christine found me teaching Asian American studies courses at UMass/Boston and encouraged me to apply to the History and Social Sciences Dept in and was hired in 1992. I specifically came to Milton to develop support services for Asian international and Asian American students (who comprised about 8% of the Upper School student population), advise Asian Society and the Asian Paper, and educate faculty on the needs of these students, and these are the things that drew me to Milton.

What is your favorite part of that job?

I was planning to stay for only a few years to build up the capacity of Asian Society, but I really enjoyed working with Milton students and faculty, so I stayed to create more programming for Asian Society and teach a variety of history courses including an Asian American history course, and ultimately got involved in numerous faculty committees to help shape the future of our school. My favorite part of working at Milton is seeing how far students of Asian descent have come. When I started, Asian international and Asian American students were pretty isolated, felt ambivalent about their Milton experience, and were less involved in activities outside of the classroom. It took about 10 years to help students feel more comfortable and integrated. Now students are doing everything– writing for our newspapers and magazines, running our student government, playing on every team and performing in every play, leading lots of different clubs, and the list goes on. It’s great to see Asian American and Asian international students so engaged in every aspect of their Milton experience because this wasn’t the case 30 years ago.

Could you highlight a meaningful experience or moment that came out of mentoring affinity space?

At one point, we had tried to add students of Asian descent to Brother & Sister Bonding, but the group got too large, so we created our own Asian Affinity. The best part of Asian Affinity is seeing students connect and laugh with one another. Seeing students make the space and time their own to get what they need from one another is heartwarming. 

What is something you appreciate about the affinity and culture clubs on campus?

At some schools, culture clubs and affinity spaces, if they exist, are peripheral to the student experience. At Milton, Asian Society has become tremendously important for many of our students. It’s the place they feel most comfortable and safe.  No one is judging them or questioning their place on campus. In the end, no one can survive Milton on their own, so it’s crucial to have these kinds of spaces for students who can support and rely on one another as they figure out who they are and what they want out of their Milton experience.

Chris Lewis

MA ‘12, Associate Director of Admissions, Onyx and Caribbean Student Association Advisor

 

How did you get involved with Onyx as a faculty advisor?

I was a member of Onyx during my time as a student so I always felt a very close connection to the group. Once I returned to Milton as an employee, I knew I wanted to find more formal ways to both support black students, and promote black culture and blackness to the wider Milton community. 

 

What is your favorite part of that job?

My favorite part of the job is definitely interacting with and learning from the student members of Onyx. I am always so impressed with how thoughtful, passionate, dedicated, and warm they are – It’s inspiring.

 

Could you highlight a meaningful experience or moment that came out of mentoring the club?

One moment that sticks out to me was the first meeting of the year. I remember frantically running back and forth between Wigg classrooms and the history faculty lounge with chairs in my hands because we didn’t have enough for all the students who showed up! There were upwards of 40 students gathered hoping to learn what “Onyx” was, and I remember being so impressed with the co-heads as they welcomed all these students into the group. 

What is something you appreciate about the affinity and culture clubs on campus?

I appreciate the intentional ways these groups create community. It shows me Milton is not only identifying the needs of the students, but also prioritizing the lived student experience. It’s reassuring to know that a student can both find affinity based on their identities, and also learn more about the diverse cultures around them within the community.

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