Milton Academy separates students as young as five into race-based ‘affinity groups’ after conducting online “climate” survey


Milton Academy, an elite day and boarding independent K-12 school founded in 1798 located on 130 acres in Milton, Mass., has instituted programs with “affinity groups” for students and parents, raising concern among parents.

A Milton Academy parent told Parents Defending Education that parents were told to pick affinity groups for their children based on race in October 2021. This winter, manditory small groups based on racial/ethnic identity began meeting during the school day. Students are being grouped by race as young as age five, according to the school’s website.

According to the Milton Academy website:

“The lower school offers a robust student affinity group program, scheduled during the school day, that seeks to engage all K–5 students in age-appropriate activities related to healthy identity development.”

Parents are concerned that young students are being trained to become “allies” rather than friends, and to believe that “affinity” groups are more important than friend groups.

On Jan. 25, 2022, Milton Academy hosted a virtual speaker series for parents on “the power of affinity groups.” Milton Academy consultant Philip McAdoo was asked: “So do you need to personally identify with the affinity group, or can you attend as an ally?”

McAdoo told parents:

“Again, there may be times, I think that was Becky’s question, where people will invite you in for the purpose of sharing and getting to know but most of the time, it’s specifically for their group.”

Jan 25. 2022 Milton Academy equity and inclusion speaker series

Day student tuition at Milton Academy is $55,650 and boarding student tuition is $64,800. It is 25 miles southeast of Wellesley Public Schools, which settled a lawsuit in early February ending its race-based student “affinity” groups. In the federal lawsuit, Parents Defending Education challenged Wellesley Public Schools’ segregated affinity groups and speech policy. Under a Feb. 7, 2022, settlement agreement, Wellesley Public Schools agreed not to “exclude students from affinity-based group sessions or any other school-sponsored activities on the basis of race.” The school district agreed to announce that these groups are “open to all students regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation.”

The next day, a parent at Milton Academy, a private day and boarding school, contacted Parents Defending Education to express concern about similar “affinity groups” at Milton.

McAdoo published “Independent Queers” in 2019

According to his website, McAdoo is the founder and chief operating officer of Philip McAdoo Diversity and Inclusion Consulting LLC. Vanessa Cohen Gibbons, Milton Academy’s chief equity and inclusion officer, moderated the hour-long webinar in which McAdoo explained affinity groups and fielded questions from parents.

During the webinar, McAdoo told parents he used the definition of “affinity group” from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).

“The term affinity group is described as a bringing together of people who have something important in common, e.g. race, gender, profession, or special interests,” he said, and “any significant historical movement” can “probably be traced to the actions of people who share a common experience.”

“It starts to feel a little bit exclusionary. Or you start to exclude people.” –Dr. Philip McAdoo

McAdoo went on to explain the affinity groups used at the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference and Student Diversity Leadership Conference.

He said:

“If you attend an NAIS conference, you’ll see the students participate in a parallel conference, which is really grounded in their sense of identity and affinity groups.”

He continued:

“When I first remember walking into NAIS and just seeing a sea of people and all the different spaces and places and ways that people were finding connection. People were finding affinity.”

Parents Defending Education has created a resource for parents wanting to learn more about NAIS and its conferences. Milton Academy has been sending faculty and staff to NAIS conferences for years. 

For example, in fall 2017, Milton Academy boasted on its website that its staff, faculty and students attended an “action-packed” conference on “equity” and “justice.”

It said:

“Faculty, staff, and students attended an action-packed conference in Anaheim, California. The adults attended the People of Color Conference; its focus was ‘Voices for Equity and Justice Now and in Every Generation: Lead, Learn, Rededicate, and Deliver.’ The students attended SDLC; its focus was ‘Making our Voices Matter: leading the March to Common Ground.'”

That conference included talks by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an architect of critical race theory, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, an author promoting ideas of critical race theory.

On its website, Milton Academy called Crenshaw’s and Coates’ talks “some of the most defining and exhilarating moments of the conference”:

Milton Academy continues to participate in conferences of the National Association of Independent Schools. For example, on Dec. 1, 2021, Melissa Lawlor, Milton’s upper school director of equity and inclusion, presented a workshop at the People of Color Conference, called “Savage Return to Kalayaan, Hustisya, Kapayapaan: Re-Indigenizing, Decolonizing, and Humanizing Pilipinx Narratives.”

Private school parents have contacted Parents Defending Education expressing concern about the presentations and workshops taking place at NAIS conferences. Paul Rossi, a math teacher and whisleblower who wrote about the workshops, posted clips of some of the conference videos online. Critics wonder if participation in these conferences are a violation of school codes of conduct and school handbooks. 

For example, the Milton Academy handbook prohibits harassment on and off campus. It says:

“Milton Academy prohibits harassment of any kind. The School therefore forbids harassing behavior, including the use of harassing language and images, regardless of the location, time or medium of the harassing behavior, that creates a hostile environment at School for a targeted student; behavior that infringes on the rights or well-being of a targeted student at School; and behavior that materially and substantially disrupts the educational process or the orderly operation of the School. This prohibition includes but is not limited to: racial, color, or national origin harassment; religious harassment; sexual harassment or sexual orientation harassment; gender identity harassment; actual or perceived age harassment; disability harassment; harassment based on any other characteristic protected under applicable law. This conduct is prohibited at all times in all places, on or off campus. In addition, the above prohibitions apply regardless of the medium—for example, and without limitation, in direct personal interactions, in any electronic or voice communication.”

Milton Academy Handbook

The handbook also prohibits “demeaning language and images” and also “prohibits any student from using words or images that demean or denigrate other individuals on the basis of social identities.”

Some parents say the NAIS’s association with the Black Panther organization “creates a hostile environment” for youth, who are minors and under the supervision of their schools when attending conferences such as NAIS’s Student Diversity Leadership Conference. Others say People of Color Conference workshops have a “Marxist agenda.”

Milton Academy parents told Parents Defending Education they are concerned about the NAIS’s influence on their school. During the January 25 virtual speaker series with McAdoo, Vanessa Cohen Gibbons, Milton’s chief equity and inclusion officer, answered a parent who had asked why the school was implementing affinity groups.

She said, “We worked with a group to do a climate assessment” in 2021. She continued, “it really was a mandate for us to follow through on what the community said that we needed and so, here we are in 2022 really getting ready to roll all of this out.”

Parents Defending Education has found that the typical outcome of NAIS “Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism (AIM) surveys is to recommend schools implement race-based affinity groups.

AIM package options available on NAIS’s website