MFA's Banning Of Visitors For Racist Encounter Is Not Enough For This Teacher And Parent

Read our coverage on the MFA's findings of the racist encounters here

On Friday night, seventh-grade English language arts teacher Marvelyne Lamy became emotional when she heard about the results of the Museum of Fine Arts' investigation.

To her, it wasn’t enough to ban and revoke the membership of two patrons who made racist remarks about her students from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy during a field trip on May 16. One person allegedly insulted a young woman who was moved to dance in the "Gender Bending Fashion" exhibition by saying, “It’s a shame that she is not learning and instead stripping.”

The other comment Lamy said she heard herself along with the rest of the group before they left. A woman said, “[expletive] black kids.” Museum officials said video footage and witness interviews corroborated the students' accounts of both confrontations.

To Lamy, the consequences meted out by museum officials felt like a way to take the heat off the MFA. It didn’t feel like justice for one very specific reason: museum officials said that even though it was understandable that the students felt followed by museum security guards, that doesn't seem to be the case. The MFA said its investigation, which consisted of recreating the students' visit with extensive video footage and dozens of interviews with visitors and staff who interacted with the children, showed the guards "went on and off break and occasionally overlapped as they moved from one area or another."

MFA Director Matthew Teitelbaum said that it was not the museum's or the guards' intention to make the children feel policed or watched more closely than other visitors. He said regardless of whether it was done purposely or not, it's still unacceptable that the students felt racially profiled, targeted and harassed. As a response, the MFA will provide training for guards to ensure they prioritize engaging with guests in a welcoming way. Teitelbaum also said the museum would review how guards are instructed to patrol the galleries.

He said the museum conducted the investigation not to prove the kids' accounts but to implement consequences for the mistreatment. "I never for a moment began the process to say that the end result will be that the students weren't sharing what they heard or what they felt. We knew that would be so. Because they told us." He said the museum approached the concerns knowing they were very real truths for the students.

For Lamy, it seemed clear that the guards were hyper-vigilant with her students, not just overlapping or going in and out of the galleries to take breaks. “It makes me feel like I’m crazy,” she said. “Changes are never going to come if they can’t hold security guards responsible,” Lamy said. All week, Lamy said she’s dealt with messages on Facebook implying that she was lying. Now she fears those messages will intensify.

“I don’t know what to tell my kids you know?” Lamy said. “That’s the hard part. What do you tell your kids? They’re the ones who experienced that. They’re the ones who are hurt. So what do I tell them? It makes me so angry.”

Boston's Museum of Fine Arts remains under scrutiny after Lamy’s students were allegedly racially profiled and harassed there while on a school trip. The seventh grade English teacher posted about it on Facebook May 20, spurring a conversation about how welcoming cultural institutions are for people of color. Online, others said her post was relatable and on Twitter, Boston city leaders condemned the racists remarks. MFA officials said they responded to the allegations of mistreatment right away, reaching out to school administration as soon as they found out about it and starting an investigation. On Thursday, some museum officials, including Makeeba McCreary, the Chief of Learning and Community Engagement, met with Lamy and some of her students.

Lamy said museum officials told her a similar incident had occurred two weeks prior. At the meeting with McCreary, students asked questions and read letters they wrote about the experience. Lamy said it was powerful to hear them express their concerns.

That field trip was David Thompson’s second time at the MFA. The 13-year-old worked really hard to make the honor roll this year.

He says he’s been thinking about what he wants to be when he grows up. “I’ve been thinking about becoming maybe a scientist or maybe a police officer,” Thompson said in a phone interview on Friday.

As a reward for his good grades, he and a group of other middle schoolers received the field trip. At first, he didn’t really want to go. But his mom, Kimberly Thompson encouraged him to attend.

“I didn’t want him to feel like you know the museum was just a place where white people go. I wanted him to go on the trip. I actually encouraged him to go,” Kimberly Thompson said. “I said, 'Well, you were doing so good in school, you might as well go and enjoy the trip with your friends. You know there's plenty to learn at the museum.' So he decides to go and this is what happened.”

David Thompson said that upon arriving at the museum, an employee said to his classmates that “no watermelon or grape juice” were allowed inside the galleries. “I really [didn't] think much of it when it happened,” he said. “But then as the trip went on I started to think why would she think that of us.” Teitelbaum said there was no way of verifying what the students heard. The work study who greeted the students at the museum has since left the country but claims the students misheard her when she said "no food, drinks or water bottles."

Regardless, Teitelbaum says employees should be more vigilant about maintaining a welcoming tone with visitors. He said the museum is working on continued mandatory unconscious bias training. "This is a fundamental problem that we will address as an institution, both with immediate steps and long-term commitments. I am deeply saddened that we’ve taken something away from these students that will be hard to get back,” Teitelbaum said in a statement from the MFA.

Kimberly Thompson agrees with Lamy. “They’re going to carry this with them,” the mother said of her son and the other students. “Into their adulthood and with their own children. They’ve already been impacted.”

David Thompson said he expected a fun day. He liked the MFA’s exhibits. Now, he said he never plans to go back to the museum. He told his mother when he got home from the field trip “that's why he doesn't like going to white people places because he doesn't feel comfortable going, you know, and dealing with racism.”

The seventh grader said he won't forget how he felt at the museum. “I feel like whenever a black person goes into a primarily white place or a neighborhood they’re going to be looking at that one black person like, ‘Why is he here? What are you doing? Are you going to try to do some wrong?' ” David Thompson said. “And I don't want to have to think that.”


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Cristela Guerra Reporter
Cristela Guerra is an arts and culture reporter for WBUR.


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Maria Garcia Managing Editor
Maria Garcia was WBUR's Managing Editor and the creator of "Anything for Selena."



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