Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has pledged $500,000 for diversity and inclusion initiatives in a deal with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey responding to complaints from students at Boston’s Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy that they received racist treatment during a school visit to the museum a year ago. (Read the full Memorandum of Understanding between Museum of Fine Arts and Attorney General Maura Healey “concerning allegations of discrimination by students and teachers of the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy,” April 29, 2020.)
After a visit to the MFA on May 16, 2019, students from the school charged that they were warned by a museum staffer, “No food, no drink, and no watermelon,” during an orientation. 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 Facebook post, a “visitor said that’s it’s a shame that she is not learning and instead stripping.”
“Last week, a number of students on an organized visit encountered a range of challenging and unacceptable experiences that made them feel unwelcome,” the museum said in an “Open Letter from the MFA Leadership Team” that was posted to its website on May 22, 2019. “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.”
Under the new agreement, the Museum of Fine Arts commits to work with Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy and community groups to make the institution more welcoming to all visitors, hire a consultant to assess and assist with the efforts, implement an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy for interactions between staff and visitors, and train its staff and volunteers on unconscious bias.
In a prepared statement, the school’s Board of Trustees Chairman Dr. Michael Silas, Executive Director Christopher Coblyn, and Principal Arturo Forrest said they were “grateful that the MFA, in recognizing that much more needs to be done to create a more inclusive environment for current and future patrons, is willing to take constructive measures to build community relationships to achieve that goal.”
The agreement acknowledges that the museum has already undertaken efforts – both before and after the field trip – to create a welcoming environment of diversity and inclusion, including staff training on unconscious bias, hiring a Chief of Learning and Community Engagement, and creating the position of Senior Director of Belonging and Inclusion.
“There’s nothing more important to us than making sure everyone feels welcome at the MFA,” MFA Director Matthew Teitelbaum said in a prepared statement. “Working with Attorney General Healey and the Davis Leadership Academy, we have the opportunity to create a new model of inclusion and diversity to serve Boston and we hope to set an example for others to follow.
“Our cultural institutions play an important role in fostering and providing an inclusive environment for communities and people of all backgrounds,” Healey said in a prepared statement. “Today’s agreement affirms the experiences of students and teachers from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy and lifts up their voices and the voices of local communities of color to help shape change and greater understanding. This agreement lays out processes which can serve as a model for cultural institutions in our ongoing collective work to build diversity and inclusivity in Boston and well beyond.”
• May 24, 2019: “‘No Food, No Drink And No Watermelon’—MFA Apologizes For Racist Mistreatment Of Students”
• May 28, 2019: “MFA Bans 2 Visitors, Continues Bias Training After Students Complain Of Racist Treatment”
• June 12, 2019: “MFA Hires Former Attorney General To Investigate Complaints That Students Faced Racist Treatment”
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