On Wednesday, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston issued an open letter to apologize for racist and inappropriate comments that staff and visitors directed toward students of color during their visit to the institution last week.
The incidents first attracted attention after Marvelyne Lamy, a seventh-grade English teacher at the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy in Dorchester, Massachusetts, described their visit in a Facebook post, writing that her students were followed closely through the museum by security guards and that the field trip began with a staff member telling the class that “no food, no drink, and no watermelon” would be allowed on the tour. Lamy also detailed offensive remarks from museum guests in her post. In one exhibition, a student was dancing, and Lamy reported that a visitor said, “It’s a shame that she is not learning and instead stripping.”
The MFA’s statement, signed by its director, Matthew Teitelbaum; Makeeba McCreary, its chief of learning and community engagement; and other members of its leadership team, reads, in part, “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.”
The letter goes on to say that McCreary reached out to the academy’s interim executive director, Christopher Coblyn, to apologize and “work together with MFA Protective Services to investigate the details of what happened.” The Boston Globe has reported that the museum has launched an internal inquiry and that its results will be shared with school officials.
McCreary subsequently met with Lamy, the students, and other teachers on the school trip. In an interview with ARTnews, Lamy said that, during that discussion, museum leaders said that a similar incident had transpired at the museum a few weeks prior to the academy’s visit. She said that the museum officials present at the meeting did not offer details about that incident.
“We were upset hearing that,” Lamy said. She said that she wanted to know “how that could happen in such a short span of time, and what action they would take to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.”
As for the museum’s public response, Lamy called it a “blanket statement,” adding, “It didn’t really address specifically what happened and what transpired at the museum. For me, it felt like the apology only came because they were in the spotlight and a lot of people expected a response.”
Lamy said she has received “an outpouring of support” since the story attracted widespread attention. “Our students have been great—they’ve become social activists overnight,” she said. “They’ve tried to find ways to pursue action and make things better so that other students won’t have to experience what they felt.”