The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office is investigating allegations of racism against the Boston Museum of Fine Arts stemming from a school field trip during which students of color were allegedly subjected to intense surveillance and bigoted remarks.
In a Facebook post last month, Marvelyne Lamy, a teacher at the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy, a public charter school in Dorchester, accused the museum of racially profiling her students during the May 16 visit.
According to Lamy, the problem began when they entered the museum. Several students told her that the staff member who gave the students the usual warning about no food or drink also said no watermelon.
As her group walked through the exhibits, she said security guards trailed them ― to the extent that the kids “grew agitated.” Lamy noted that white students in other groups were not treated with the same level of suspicion and that guards even turned a blind eye as they broke the rules.
“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,” Lamy wrote. “The minute one of our students followed suit, the security guards would yell at them that they should not touch exhibits.”
In a statement sent to HuffPost on Thursday, Jillian Fennimore, a spokesperson for state Attorney General Maura Healey, said the office had contacted both the school and the museum after reports about the trip surfaced.
“Our educational and cultural institutions must be welcoming to everyone ― especially to our young people,” Fennimore said. “We take allegations of discrimination seriously and can confirm that our office is investigating this matter.”
Responding to that news, a Boston Museum of Fine Arts spokesperson told HuffPost that it is willing to assist Healey’s office. The institution has also hired a law firm to conduct its own external investigation of the incident.
Two days after Lamy’s May 20 Facebook post went viral, the museum published an open letter on its website apologizing for the “range of challenging and unacceptable experiences” the students had encountered.
“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,” the letter read.
At the time, Lamy told HuffPost that she did not accept the apology, calling it “a blanket statement” and criticizing its lack of specificity about the incident.
In addition to the law firm investigation, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has also examined the students’ visit itself, including reviewing surveillance footage, speaking with visitors and employees, and working with the school.
The museum did not determine whether the “no watermelon” remark was made, stating that the staff member who delivered instructions to students “recalled relaying as part of standard operating procedures that ‘no food, no drink and no water bottles’ were allowed in the galleries.”
The museum said that it understood why the group felt excessively monitored, since “guards went on and off break and occasionally overlapped as they moved from one area or another.” However, the effect was unintentional, it said.
Furthermore, the museum’s investigation found that offensive remarks were made by two visitors who have since been banned from the property and their memberships revoked.
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