Local officials were outraged and disappointed by the allegations that Dorchester middle school students were subjected to racism by staff and some patrons at the Museum of Fine Arts during a recent field trip.
The principal at the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy, a charter school in Fields Corner, said that one museum employee reportedly told students that “no food, no drink, and no watermelon” were allowed during the outing, and a museum patron reportedly made a comment to a female student that she should pay attention so she could avoid a career as a stripper, school officials said.
School officials also reported that museum security appeared to be singling out students of color and following them as they made their way through the exhibits.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh described the allegations as “disturbing.”
“We can’t have institutions in our city, in our state, in our country, being disrespectful like that,” Walsh said. “It’s just uncalled for.”
Walsh said he had not yet had a chance to speak with MFA officials about what transpired, “but the reports that I’ve heard are disturbing.”
Walsh said whenever young people visit an art museum, or any other cultural institution, “they should be able to come and enjoy themselves, and not have to be getting any type of racist remarks or any type of discrimination. That’s not who we should be, and that’s not who we are.”
State Senator Nick Collins was among several elected officials who expressed their concerns on Twitter.
“This is disgusting & disheartening,” Collins tweeted. “We need to listen to the experiences of young people of color. When they say they face discrimination & institutional racism daily, this is what that looks like. [It’s] incumbent on everyone to work towards eradicating it. We can & must do better.”
Boston City Councilor at Large Michelle Wu tweeted Thursday that the experience that the students and teachers described was “unacceptable.”
“Boston & our institutions need to be the wider classroom for all our kids,” Wu said in the tweet. “I look forward to seeing policy changes to ensure all feel safe & welcome to enjoy the treasures there.”
Boston City Council President Andrea J. Campbell expressed similar concerns and called out the MFA on Twitter.
“This is sad and unacceptable,” Campbell said in a tweet. “Yesterday, we had our first @BOSCityCouncil racial equity training session (first of 6 in-depth sessions), with huge participation from Councilors & staff. All our institutions should be doing this.”
Marcony Almeida Barros, the chief of community engagement for the Massachusetts attorney general’s office and member of the Everett School Committee, had sharper words.
The Boston branch of the NAACP shared the Globe story about the incident on Facebook and wrote: “The entire community is traumatized by this report, the community expects to receive information on the outcome of this investigation.”
About 30 seventh-graders from the charter school were on the trip, all of them students of color, according to school officials.
MFA officials have since issued an apology to the school.
In a letter posted to the museum’s website, top MFA officials apologized to the students and staff at the school for “a range of challenging and unacceptable experiences that made them feel unwelcome. 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.”
The letter states that MFA officials were “extremely troubled” to learn about the experience that the class had at the museum.
“Immediately after being made aware of the situation, Makeeba McCreary, the MFA’s Chief of Learning and Community Engagement, reached out to Christopher Coblyn, Interim Executive Director of the Academy, to apologize and work together with MFA Protective Services to investigate the details of what happened. McCreary and Coblyn have been in direct communication since the day of the visit,” the letter states.
“We want to apologize specifically to the students, faculty, and parents of the Davis Leadership Academy,” the letter states. “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.”
MFA officials did not return several e-mails and phone calls seeking comment.