The Boston Museum of Fine Arts is apologizing to a group of students of color and explaining steps it is taking for the future after their teacher claimed they were subjected to racial profiling during their visit.
In response, the museum posted an open letter on its website Wednesday, stating that it was “extremely troubled” to find out about the students’ experiences, assuring is was looking into the issue, and apologizing.
On Friday, the museum announced in a press release that it had concluded its investigation by reviewing video footage, interviewing visitors and staff, and working with the school.
Lamy alleged that upon entering the museum, the students were monitored excessively and told by an employee that no food or drinks were allowed inside, specifically mentioning watermelon.
While she did not hear the remark herself, Lamy told HuffPost she found out about it through several students who approached her separately about the comment. She initially questioned whether it was misheard, but then realized that each of the students did not know the others were reporting it, too.
“After she wrapped up the rules, a lot of them were like, ‘I don’t want to go in, I don’t want to go in, did they say that because we’re black?’” she recalled. It was only later that Lamy would learn what the staffer allegedly said.
The museum’s probe did not come to a definitive conclusion on whether the students were told not to bring in watermelon, and the museum stated that the staff member who delivered the instructions described the matter differently: “The employee who greeted the group recalled relaying as part of standard operating procedures that ‘no food, no drink and no water bottles’ were allowed in the galleries.”
However, the museum explained there was no way to confirm exactly what was said.
On Facebook, Lamy described the hypervigilance of the building’s security guards, which she claimed did not apply to white visitors:
We were instructed not to touch any of the artifacts in the museum, yet the white students there touched the displays several times while security looked on without saying anything. The minute one of our students followed suit, the security guards would yell at them that they should not touch exhibits.
Lamy added that the guards trailed behind the group throughout its tour of the building as the class became “agitated,” prompting the teacher to gather up everyone so they could leave.
On the matter of allegedly excessive security monitoring, the museum explained that “guards went on and off break and occasionally overlapped as they moved from one area or another,” adding that it understood that the students felt watched, but that “it was not our intention.”
“In response, the MFA is taking a number of steps to adapt security procedures ― specifically designed to make sure that all people feel welcome, safe and respected at the Museum,” it stated. “This includes additional training for guards in how they engage with visitors inside and outside the Museum, as well as reviewing how guards are instructed to patrol the galleries.”
Lamy also stated that as she was collecting one of her students who was dancing to music playing in an exhibit, a museumgoer insulted the girl.
“The visitor said that it’s a shame that she is not learning and instead stripping,” Lamy said. “That’s when I had it. I told them we are leaving right now.”
According to Lamy, even as the class was exiting, the harassment continued.
“As we were walking out, our students were standing in the doorway of the Africa exhibit,” she said. “We had them clear out the doorway so people could pass by. This lady walks by and says, ‘Never mind there’s fucking black kids in the way.’”
The museum said Friday that it determined that museumgoers made racist comments to the students twice, and the patrons were identified. As a result, their membership was revoked and they have been banned from the museum’s property. In addition, the museum said, it “will serve them with a no-trespass cease-and-desist notification.”
In its open letter posted Wednesday, the museum offered an apology:
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.
Lamy told HuffPost she does not accept the apology.
“I just think it was a blanket statement, and I don’t really feel like they were specific in terms of why they were apologizing,” she said.
Though she has lost her respect for the museum, Lamy said it could improve matters by making its staff, security guards and its collection of art more inclusive when it comes to gender, race and sexuality.
Going forward, her class has only become more resilient, Lamy said.
“This has made our kids stronger if anything, so our kids were hurt the day that it happened but the next day they came in ready to take action,” she added.
This story was updated with the results of the museum’s investigation and steps it plans to take.