On museum tour, students find racism

Who’s going to believe a bunch of children of color that they ran into racism while visiting one of the nation’s great museums?

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is apologizing for a staff member who allegedly told students of color on a field trip “no food, no drink, and no watermelon.”

The contingent from Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy was being rewarded for academic performance. About 90 percent of the school is African American or Latino.

“This was a strong group of students that went, they excelled academically,” Arturo Forrest, the principal, tells the Boston Globe. “The shock of it for them was, ‘We are the top and we carry ourselves the right way as leaders.’ You know, it was very eye-opening for them.”

Teachers on the trip said staff members followed the students through the museum, while letting other students — white students — browse unsupervised.

“It wasn’t subtle,” a seventh-grade teacher said. “It was blatant, in your face: ‘We’re going to watch every step you take.’ ”

A white museum patron reportedly told a female student to pay attention while at the MFA so she could avoid a life as a stripper, the principal said.

Another referred to the students as “(expletive) black kids.”

The museum issued an open letter to the school:

May 22, 2019

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s recently adopted Strategic Plan, MFA 2020, came with a commitment to renew our invitation, welcome, and engagement of audiences that reflect the diversity of our city. As we work to grow our community, we need to be sure that everyone feels welcome here — we want this to be your museum.

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.

We were extremely troubled to learn about the experience a class from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy had at the MFA. Immediately after being made aware of the situation, Makeeba McCreary, the MFA’s Chief of Learning and Community Engagement, reached out to Christopher Coblyn, Interim Executive Director of the Academy, to apologize and work together with MFA Protective Services to investigate the details of what happened. McCreary and Coblyn have been in direct communication since the day of the visit.

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.

Matthew Teitelbaum
Ann and Graham Gund Director

Makeeba McCreary
Patti and Jonathan Kraft Chief of Learning and Community Engagement

Kristin Ferguson
Chief of Staff

Katie Getchell
Chief Brand Officer, Deputy Director

Mark Kerwin
Chief Financial Officer, Deputy Director

Cameran Mason
Chief Development Officer

Edward Saywell
Chief of Exhibitions Strategy and Gallery Displays

The museum said it would review its policies and practices, but said nothing about firing at least one employee.

The students “finally got to put a face to some of the things we go through in our curriculum.” the school’s principal said.

The majority of reader comments insisted none of this happened.

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