The MFA Boston Has Apologized to Students Whose Teacher Says Museum Staff Racially Profiled Them

The teacher says staff also followed the students too closely.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images.

A group of middle-school students and their teacher said they were followed and subjected to racist remarks during a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston last week.

Roughly 30 seventh graders from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy in Dorchester, Massachusetts, were treated to a field trip to the museum as a reward for good grades. But during the visit, their teacher and chaperone, Marvelyne Lamy, alleges that the children—all students of color—were followed closely by museum security and reprimanded for touching Greek and Egyptian artifacts, while white students from other schools did so without consequence.  

Earlier this week, Lamy shared a long description of the trip on Facebook—a post that has since been liked by more than 1,000 people. According to the teacher, a docent on staff told the children that “no food, no drink, and no watermelon” were allowed in the museum. When another child was seen dancing to music playing in the “Gender Bending Fashion” exhibition, a museum visitor allegedly said it’s a “shame that she is not learning” and is “instead stripping.” Lamy also says that while the kids were grouped near the exit of the African art exhibit, another museum visitor passed by a said, “there’s [expletive] black kids in the way.”

Lamy reported the incidents to MFA staff, who, she says, “just looked on with pity.” The museum responded by offering the students tickets to return in the hopes they would have a “better experience.”

The museum did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But on Wednesday, the museum issued a public apology addressed 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,” the letter reads. “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 MFA is currently looking into the incidents, an effort led by its chief of learning and community engagement, Makeeba McCreary. The results of the investigation will determine what consequences the museum staff will face.

“The most important data is the fact that we had children leave this museum and adults feeling disrespected because of the color of their skin,” McCreary told the Boston Globe. “That is fundamentally not okay. I also know this is not a once-in-a-moment occurrence. People have expressed over time—and I’m from Boston, I grew up here—that the museum is a challenging place to be in the lightest sense of terms, and an unwelcoming place for people of color in the most direct terms. These two things are very true and very real.”

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