By ASTON CHAN ‘22
Milton introduced the Transitions Program in 1984 to facilitate assimilation into a climate that did not support the cultural identity of students of color. Leaders of Milton’s diversity department intended for the program to establish understanding, communication, and safe spaces for students to interact with each other. Upon re-evaluating the program, the Office of Multiculturalism and Community Development (OMCD) recently acknowledged the shortcomings of their intentions. As a department emphasizing the promotion of diversity within our entire community, the OMCD asserted that “it is not a solution to settle on making space for a group,” and that “we must make sure that everyone in the community sees themselves as responsible for and benefits from the diversity within our community.” To address their current concerns, the OMCD proposed a reformed Transitions Program effective this summer for all new Upper School students.
The new three-day program includes a number of additions into the agenda. Mr. Rodriguez, the director of student multicultural programming, explains the incorporation of “immersive programming specifically for new students of color and international students, new family/parent programming, an additional international family orientation, student cultural and cross-cultural identity affinity groups, and an engaging team of returning student Transition Program mentors.” Despite some student backlash against the proposed solutions, Rodriguez believes that “[the reformed Transitions] would be a good start for the work that needed to be done.” Rodriguez notes that the new Transitions would emphasize eight goals:
1. Ensure that all new students are seen for the range of identities they hold and understand they are an integral part of Milton Academy’s culture
2. Set a tone of identity and inclusion work for all new students
3. Help all new students develop a sense of belonging at Milton Academy
4. Foster a community of inclusivity, growth, openness, and understanding for all new students
5. Recognize and celebrate the range of affinity connections
6. Encouraging connections and community across identities
7. Provide all new students with resources, guidance, and support as they explore their identities
8. Lay the foundation for future diversity, equity, and inclusion endeavors
“This year in particular,” Rodriguez notes, was also an attempt to “get our students and faculty more involved with the planning process.” The Student Ambassadors, a group of students assembled by Rodriguez to “[serve] as spokespeople tasked with making announcements and providing updates,” provided input ranging from programming suggestions to topics of discussions in affinity groups.
Opinions on the new Transitions program have varied from student to student. Despite understanding the school’s necessity for the new Transitions, past Transitions mentor Pierce Wilson ‘19 feels that the OMCD’s approach “[does not] feel as though it will place the onus on students of color to educate white students.” He emphasizes how “the [new Transitions is] integral to the goal of becoming a school with a culture of inclusion, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still need a program that helps students acclimate.”
Although Pierce states that “the input [provided] hasn’t been valued too much throughout,” he still “[hopes] that the program is successful in its new goals, while maintaining some of the facets that made it so impactful in the first place.” In his experience, “students of color and international students are always going to be, to some degree, outsiders at Milton, and it is important that this institution recognizes that fact in a way that doesn’t put an undue burden on those students.”
Returning Transitions mentor Olivia Wang ‘20 similarly understands the “validity and necessity of maintaining an exclusive program [like the old Transition program],” voicing that “Milton’s diverse and demanding lifestyle is not one that is easy to get used to.” Nonetheless, she expresses her “[excitement] for what this program can do for the school,” noting how “for the first time, maybe racial cliques around school won’t form as fast as they usually do because of pre-existing friend groups from Transitions.” Wang aspires “to be a part of creating a more understanding Milton,” and she hopes that “students [will be] more willing to interact across cultures, grades, and friend groups because ultimately cross dialogue allows for growth and change."
Despite the various ambiguities of the new Transitions, the Transitions program will remain an important aspect of integrating new Upper School students into our community. As Mr. Rodriguez states, “the precedent set at [Transitions] is going to set the tone for what we want [in the rest of the year];” the OMCD must ensure that the adjustments made will truly enhance intercultural dialogue and promote cultural inclusivity for a more accepting Milton Academy.