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MFA announces additional steps after racist incidents reported during school visit

“We understand that our work is far from done and that we have a long way to go.”

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is asking for the public’s involvement as it seeks to become a “more inclusive” institution, after students of color reported being subjected to racist comments and harassment during a school trip earlier this month.

“We are actively examining our visitor services protocols, have added staffing, revised our welcome messaging, and are expanding training,” the museum said in a statement on Friday. “We understand that our work is far from done and that we have a long way to go.”

On a newly created page of its website, the museum laid out the steps it has taken in the last week and plans to take in the future to become a “safe space” for all members of the city’s community.

“This is our living, breathing record of our work together,” the page reads. “We hear you, and we want you to hold us accountable for what we’ve promised.”

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The MFA conducted an investigation last week after teachers and students from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy reported that seventh graders were racially profiled and harassed during a school visit on May 16. A teacher at the Dorchester charter school said a student, who was dancing in an exhibit, reported that a museum visitor told her that she should be learning, not stripping, while another patron commented “there’s f****** black kids in the way” upon seeing the school group near an exhibit. Students also said a museum staff member told them “no watermelon” was allowed when explaining the rules and that they felt security guards were following them in the exhibits.

The MFA, which issued a public apology to the school, revoked the membership of the two visitors involved in the incidents and banned them from the museum’s grounds. The museum said its investigation could not determine whether or not a staff member used the word “watermelon” and said security guards were going on and off break, not intentionally following the students.

“Based on surveillance footage, it is understandable that, because of this movement, the students felt followed,” the museum said in announcing the investigation’s findings last week. “That was not our intention. It is unacceptable that they felt racially profiled, targeted and harassed. In response, the MFA is taking a number of steps to adapt security procedures—specifically designed to make sure that all people feel welcome, safe and respected at the Museum.”

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On Friday, the MFA announced that it is adding staff to the entrance for school groups and “evolving” mandatory training for employees. The museum said it has also changed its orientation greeting and increased staffing to its galleries.

“We believe that to create a truly inviting and welcoming museum we must be empathetic to visitors’ experiences and understand what they bring to the institution,” the museum said. “Everyone at the MFA wants the Museum to belong to all of Boston. We know that we have work to do to achieve that goal, and we are committed to doing so. We will continue to address these fundamental issues as an institution, both with immediate steps and long-term commitments.”

Some of the students from the academy told WBUR that they would not return to the MFA after the racism they experienced during their visit.

“I’m still upset and there’s a small part of me that thinks I’ll never get over it,” 13-year-old Azaan Rodriguez told the station. “I’ll always remember it. … Why [do] they hate me? They don’t even know me.”

The museum said it is scheduled to meet with staff at the academy on Monday.