Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has issued a formal apology, a week after a group of middle school students – all of whom are children of color – say that they were subjected to racism from not only staff at the museum but from other visitors as well.
Students from Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester had gone to the museum as a reward for good grades and excellent behavior. That reward quickly turned sour, Marvelyne Lamy, an English language arts teacher at the school, explained in a Facebook post.
“At the very beginning of the tour, one of the staff gave an overview on what to expect and told the kids no food, no drink, and no watermelon (we didn’t know they said this until the end),” Lamy wrote in her post. “There were other groups of students that were there, but those students were white. We were instructed not to touch any of the artifacts in the museum, yet the white students there touched the displays several times while security looked on without saying anything. The minute one of our students followed suit, the security guards would yell at them that they should not touch exhibits. Throughout our walk through, they followed us. Many of our students grew agitated. At the end, we went through the gender-bending exhibit where the security guard followed our every movement.”
One of the interactive exhibits included music, and so one of the carefree students started dancing, having a good time as she soaked up the exhibit. That’s when another visitor at the museum made a wholly inappropriate comment.
“Every single exhibit we went through, we were being followed,” she added. “The security guard is literally just in our face.”
Lamy said that she had had enough. Unwilling to further subject her students to such transparently racist treatment, she was preparing them to leave when another patron further twisted the knife.
“This lady walks in and she’s like, ‘these f–king Black kids are in the way,’” Lamy explained.
“We reported all these incidents to the staff at the MFA, and they just looked on with pity. They took our names and filed a report,” the infuriated teacher added in her Facebook post. “Their only solution, they will give us tickets to come back and have a ‘better’ experience. We did not even receive an apology. The worse 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. 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. I cannot stress to you enough, I WILL NEVER GO BACK TO THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS. They will not see a dollar of mine. If you are a person of color, please do not support this museum until they improve how they treat people of color at their institution. “
The post drew attention, and on Thursday afternoon, museum executives went to the school to hear about the students’ experience themselves.
“All of us were sorry to hear about the experience these young people had at the museum, and we know we should and will be better than that,” Katie Getchell, the MFA’s Deputy Director, said, according to CBS Boston. “We’re in the process of rolling out some new training next month, so we’re figuring out how to expedite that and maybe bolster it with more.”
The day prior, the museum issued a public statement also apologizing.
“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,” the statement read.