The open letter published to MFA’s website on Wednesday says that “a number of students on an organized visit encountered a range of challenging and unacceptable experiences that made them feel unwelcome.” According to the letter, the students were from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy. As soon as concerns were expressed to the museum by administrators from the academy, MFA opened an investigation.
Administrators from Davis Leadership Academy didn’t immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment. However, the school’s principal, Arturo J. Forrest, told the Boston Globe that the 30 seventh-grade students on the trip were all students of color who were shocked by the museum staffs’s words.
He elaborated to say that his staff recalled one of the museum’s staff members telling academy students, “no food, no drink and no watermelon,” during the trip — referencing a commonly used racist trope around watermelon. Forrest also heard that museum security was singling out students to follow, while leaving white students alone.
Marvelyne Lamy, a seventh-grade English teacher who was on the trip, told the Globe that the tight security “wasn’t subtle.”
“It was blatant, in your face: ‘We’re going to watch every step you take,’” she said.
Students also reported that a museum patron made comments — including one directed toward a female student, whom the patron allegedly told to pay attention so she could avoid a career as a stripper. Another patron referred to a group of students as “(expletive) black kids,” Forrest claimed.
MFA’s letter didn’t specifically address claims, but made an apology to anyone in the Davis Leadership Academy community who was impacted.
“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 statement 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 Interim Executive Director of the Academy, Christopher Coblyn, and MFA’s Chief of Learning and Community Engagement, Makeeba McCreary, have been communicating since the day of the visit. As for any consequences that the museum staff may face, McCreary told the Globe that that will be determined upon completion of the internal investigation.
“If they feel they were treated in a way that was racist or unwelcoming, I don’t need to review video,” McCreary said. “What I’m interested in is that it doesn’t happen again.”
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