The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is apologizing after officials at a Dorchester school said students were subjected to racist remarks and profiling during a trip to the institution last week.
“Last week, a number of students on an organized visit encountered a range of challenging and unacceptable experiences that made them feel unwelcome,” the museum said in an open letter on its website on Wednesday. “That is not who we are or want to be.”
Marvelyne Lamy, an English teacher at Davis Leadership Academy, detailed the incidents in a post on Facebook on Monday. She said seventh grade teachers and students took a field trip to the MFA on May 16.
“My students are ALL black and brown,” she wrote.
Her students told her that at the start at the tour, a museum staff member told the middle schoolers what to expect and the rules, “no food, no drink, and no watermelon.”
Lamy said that security guards looked on without action as groups of white students touched artifacts at the museum, while her own middle schoolers were followed through exhibit halls by security personnel.
“It got so bad that I started gathering our students so we could leave,” the teacher wrote. “I was pulling one of my students to come out the exhibit, when she said that one of the visitors made a comment towards her when she was dancing to music included in the exhibit. The visitor said [that] it’s a shame that she is not learning and instead stripping. That’s when I had it. I told them we are leaving right now.”
Lamy said she and her students were standing near the doorway of the Africa exhibit preparing to leave when a woman walked by and said, “Never mind there’s f****** black kids in the way.”
All the incidents were reported to MFA staff, she said.
“The [worst] part about all of this is seeing the hurt look on my children’s faces as this was their first time experiencing racism first hand,” Lamy wrote. “It’s sad that although our students are well behaved and our teachers are well educated, that we are still seen as less than and as criminals.”
The school’s principal, Arturo J. Forrest, told The Boston Globe that about 30 seventh graders were on the field trip.
“This was a strong group of students that went, they excelled academically,” Forrest told the newspaper on Wednesday. “The shock of it for them was, ‘We are the top and we carry ourselves the right way as leaders.’ You know, it was very eye-opening for them.”
In its apology, the museum said it was “extremely troubled” to learn of the experiences of the students and immediately reached out to the academy to apologize. The incidents are under investigation, the museum said.
“We want to apologize specifically to the students, faculty, and parents of the Davis Leadership Academy,” museum officials wrote. “We deeply regret any interactions that led to this outcome and are committed to being a place where all people trust that they will feel safe and treated with respect. We look forward to ongoing conversation and commit to using this situation as an opportunity to learn and create a culture of unwavering inclusion.”
Read the statement from the MFA leadership team, posted to their website on Wednesday, below:
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s recently adopted Strategic Plan, MFA 2020, came with a commitment to renew our invitation, welcome, and engagement of audiences that reflect the diversity of our city. As we work to grow our community, we need to be sure that everyone feels welcome here—we want this to be your museum.
Last week, a number of students on an organized visit encountered a range of challenging and unacceptable experiences that made them feel unwelcome. That is not who we are or want to be. Our intention is to set the highest of standards, and we are committed to doing the work that it will take to get there.
We were extremely troubled to learn about the experience a class from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy had at the MFA. Immediately after being made aware of the situation, Makeeba McCreary, the MFA’s Chief of Learning and Community Engagement, reached out to Christopher Coblyn, Interim Executive Director of the Academy, to apologize and work together with MFA Protective Services to investigate the details of what happened. McCreary and Coblyn have been in direct communication since the day of the visit.
We want to apologize specifically to the students, faculty, and parents of the Davis Leadership Academy. We deeply regret any interactions that led to this outcome and are committed to being a place where all people trust that they will feel safe and treated with respect. We look forward to ongoing conversation and commit to using this situation as an opportunity to learn and create a culture of unwavering inclusion.
Ann and Graham Gund Director
Patti and Jonathan Kraft Chief of Learning and Community Engagement
Chief of Staff
Chief Brand Officer, Deputy Director
Chief Financial Officer, Deputy Director
Chief Development Officer
Chief of Exhibitions Strategy and Gallery Displays