Boston's Museum Of Fine Arts Under Scrutiny After Students Say They Were Racially Profiled

May 24, 2019
Originally published on May 24, 2019 5:13 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Boston now where the Museum of Fine Arts is under scrutiny. Students on a field trip to the museum say they were racially profiled and harassed there. And as WBUR's Cristela Guerra reports, the incident has spurred a conversation about how welcoming cultural institutions are for people of color.

CRISTELA GUERRA, BYLINE: Thirteen-year-old David Thompson worked really hard to make the honor roll this year. As a reward for his good grades, he and a group of other middle schoolers from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy would be going to the Museum of Fine Arts on a field trip. This was David's second time at the museum, and at first, he didn't really want to go. But his mom, Kimberly, encouraged him to attend.

KIMBERLY THOMPSON: I didn't want him to feel like the museum was just a place where white people go. Like, I wanted him to understand that I wanted him to go on the trip. I actually encouraged him to go. And he was reluctant to go at first. I say, well, there's plenty to learn at the museum.

GUERRA: What happened according to the students and their teacher is that the group of all kids of color were profiled and harassed. It started, David says, when a tour guide told them that no watermelon or grape juice would be allowed.

DAVID THOMPSON: And the tour guide said, like, no watermelons or grape juice. I didn't really think much of it when it happened. But then as the trip went on, I started to think, why she'd think that of us? David's teacher, Marvelyne Lamy, was chaperoning the kids at the museum. She says guards followed them from gallery to gallery while being lax with a group of white students there.

MARVELYNE LAMY: I should note that it wasn't just one specific security guard. Any time we'd switch exhibits, it was almost, like, immediate. Like, they'd leave their posts and then start following us around.

GUERRA: The group of kids say another museum visitor said - and I quote, "there's [expletive] black kids." The trip was so upsetting the teachers cut it short. David's mother, Kimberly...

THOMPSON: One of the teachers came back out crying, and some of the students were really upset. He did say that they felt uncomfortable, and he said to me that's why he doesn't like going to white people places - because he doesn't feel comfortable going.

GUERRA: After reviewing video footage, the museum banned two members. Museum Director Matthew Teitelbaum says they investigated not to prove whether it happened - rather, to implement consequences.

MATTHEW TEITELBAUM: The felt as though they were racially profiled. When someone says that, they must be right, which is to say, they must have had an experience that made them feel as though they didn't belong.

GUERRA: Museum officials met with the students this week to apologize formally. For NPR News, I'm Cristela Guerra in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.