Hoping that “an investigation by an external party could provide greater objectivity and clarity,” Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has hired former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger to look into complaints that students from Boston’s Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy received racist treatment from the museum during a May 16 visit.
The Museum of Fine Arts has been the subject of international reports and criticism after students from the school charged that they were told by a museum staffer, “No food, no drink, and no watermelon,” during an orientation at the beginning of their museum visit. Students and faculty complained that museum guards followed the more than two dozen students, all children of color, and that museum patrons made racist comments to them. When a student danced to music included in an exhibit, Marvelyne Lamy, a seventh-grade English teacher at the school, wrote in a May 20 Facebook post, a “visitor said that’s it’s a shame that she is not learning and instead stripping.”
The museum apologized to the school and conducted an internal investigation into what happened. “There is no way to definitively confirm or deny what was said or heard in the galleries” by museum staff, the MFA reported on May 24. “Regardless, the MFA is committed to providing additional training for all frontline staff on how to engage with incoming school groups about policies and guidelines.”
On May 24, the museum said that it had banned two visitors for making racist comments to seventh graders during their museum tour.
“The MFA has engaged counsel to conduct an external investigation of the incidents on May 16, 2019, and of the Museum’s internal investigation that followed,” the Museum of Fine Arts announced in a June 12 update to its website. “The investigation will be led by former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger of the Boston-based firm Casner & Edwards LLP, and begin immediately. The Museum had announced the findings of its own investigation on May 24, 2019. In the ensuing weeks, we continued discussion with our Boards of Trustees and Advisors, community leaders, and other engaged constituencies. We came to the decision that an investigation by an external party could provide greater objectivity and clarity. We look forward to their report and sharing what we learn with the MFA community and public.”
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