Racially Profiled Students at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Receive Apology

A group of students from Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter Public School in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts had an unfortunate visit to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) on May 16. The seventh graders, who were at the museum as a reward for good behavior and good grades, were racially profiled by security guards and fellow museum visitors.

The group of more than two dozen students of color were exploring the museum to get a firsthand look at the art and cultures they had studied in class, WBUR reported. Instead of an educational visit, the students were reportedly subjected to racial profiling and hurtful comments.

Marvelyne Lamy, a seventh grade English language arts teacher who was a chaperone, said security guards followed her students around the museum, prompting the students to grow agitated. “At the end, we went through the gender bending exhibit where the security guard followed our every movement,” Lamy wrote on Facebook. “It got so bad that I started gathering our students so we could leave.”

One of Lamy’s students briefly danced to music in the “Gender Bending Fashion” exhibition only to hear a visitor said, “It’s a shame that she is not learning and instead stripping,” Lamy wrote. Another visitor called the children “f— Black kids” as they attempted to move out of a doorway of the museum’s African exhibit. Lamy told WBUR that students left the museum crying, angry, and upset after being subjected to racism. She added that the group reported the incidents to the museum, but that staff merely offered free return tickets for a “better experience.”

“This is mind boggling, that it’s 2019,” Lamy told WBUR. “And I can come into an establishment and my skin color speaks for me before I even get to walk in and introduce myself and say who I am.” Lamy ended her Facebook post asking people of color not to support the MFA “until they improve how they treat people of color at their institution.”

The MFA’s top officials apologized in an open letter released nearly a week after the students visited the museum. Museum officials said they were “extremely troubled” to learn about the experience. The letter noted that Makeeba McCreary, the MFA’s chief of learning and community engagement, reached out to the school’s interim executive director to apologize and to launch an investigation.

“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,” the museum said in its statement. “We look forward to ongoing conversation and commit to using this situation as an opportunity to learn and create a culture of unwavering inclusion.”

Several Boston organizations and leaders have condemned the incident. Mayor Marty Walsh called the comments “incredibly disturbing” and said students should be able to go anywhere in Boston without worrying about racist remarks or discrimination. “That’s not who we should be, and that’s not who we are as a city,” Walsh tweeted on May 23. Boston, however, has a long and complicated history with racism. In 1974, the city’s schools were desegregated in court-ordered busing. This resulted in a busing crisis that turned Boston’s Southie neighborhood into a “war zone,” WBUR reported. More recently, the Boston Red Sox have made headlines for fans’ racist taunts against players and the division between white players and players of color when it came time to visit the White House.

In a statement to The North Star, Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy said its administration, seventh grade teachers, and students met with representatives from the MFA to discuss the incident and hopefully kickstart a conversation on how people of color experience museums that feature works of art from all over the globe. “Although upsetting for our school’s community, we are proud of the tremendous leadership, steadfast character, and resiliency our students and staff displayed throughout this experience,” the school said in the statement. The statement also said the school’s community was grateful for the “genuine support” it had received over the past week.

“This incident has made an already strong community even stronger, and is a testament to not only the characters of our families, but also the Academy’s distinctive programming, which strives to emulate this country’s exceptional historically Black colleges and universities, which prepare our students to confront these types of incidents directly, and with their heads held high, knowing they come from greatness,” the school added.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.