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The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

MFA Boston Bans Two Visitors, Implements Staff Bias Training Following Racist Incidents

After a group of minority middle-school students were subjected to racist comments and were racially profiled by patrons and staff members at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston, during a field trip two weeks ago, the institution banned two museumgoers from the grounds and pledged to overhaul its protocols and procedures for customer-facing staff.

On May 16, Marvelyne Lamy, a teacher at Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy in Dorchester, Massachusetts, told a group of thirty students that they were ending their visit to the museum early after a museum employee informed them that “no food, no drink, and no watermelon” were allowed inside and they were followed closely by the MFA’s security guards as they viewed the exhibitions.

Lamy wrote about the day in detail on her Facebook page. She claims that museum visitors also made racist remarks. One woman told a student that it was a “shame that she is not learning and instead stripping” when she was dancing to music that accompanied one of the displays. “Many of our students grew agitated,” Lamy wrote. “It got so bad that I started gathering our students so we could leave.” Lamy reported the incidents to museum management.

A week later, the MFA apologized to the school and announced that it would conduct an internal investigation into what transpired that day. The museum has since reviewed video footage, conducted interviews with staff and visitors, and has been in contact with school officials. In a statement on its findings, which were released on May 24, the institution acknowledged that it was slow to respond to what had happened.

The museum confirmed that four racist incidents took place. As a result, it has revoked the memberships of two people who were identified as the visitors who used “offensive and inappropriate language when they came into contact with the students.” They will be served no-trespass, cease-and-desist letters.

The MFA also promised to implement new training sessions for all front-facing docents, guards, and staff. The institution said these trainings will focus on ensuring that the sixty thousand schoolchildren that it welcomes annually will “feel protected and safe” during their visits.

While the MFA claims that its security personnel were not intentionally following the students, it will commit to having the guards complete additional training. Outside experts will be brought in to assist the museum with its next steps, including with developing unconscious-bias, conflict-resolution, and sexual-harassment trainings.

“These young people left the museum feeling disrespected, harassed, and targeted because of the color of their skin, and that is unacceptable,” MFA director Matthew Teitelbaum said. “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 they will never get back.”