Development & Education

Boston students take on the French consulate over its warning to avoid their neighborhood

French Consul in Dorchester.jpg

Credit:

Codman Academy

French Consul General Fabien Fieschi speaks with students during a tour of Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester. He told them travel advisory "should not be taken as offensive, not to you, because you're not responsible for everything that happens in your neighborhood."

Students at the Codman Academy Charter Public School in Boston were dismayed to learn that the French consulate warns tourists on its website to avoid walking at night in their Dorchester neighborhood.

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The consulate says it's because of crime in the area. 

Haley Malm, a French teacher at Codman, says the students were quite offended that Boston's Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury neighborhoods were specifically targeted as places not to visit.

"So we invited the Consul to come and visit us," says Malm. "We wanted him to come and see that there's nothing to be afraid of and that we actually want to encourage French tourists to visit the incredible resources that are in these neighborhoods."

And this week, the diplomat visited the school. Malm says the Consul General's visit was a constructive exchange of ideas.

"We started out by making our case. I've been incredibly impressed by the students of Codman who have really taken action, and not just been frustrated or angry around the issue, " she says. "They actually wrote to their French correspondents [French exchange students who had visited the school] and asked them if they ever felt unsafe."

Kyle Depina is one of the Codman students who hosted a French exchange student at his home. "We spent time together in Dorchester, we walked to the park, we played basketball, it was real experience." Kyle says he was "baffled" when he learned that the French consulate was advising French tourists to avoid visiting Dorchester at nighttime.

"I don't understand why. I understand they hear stuff in the news and see it in the newspapers, but Copley Square is not on the list [of places to avoid] and they recently had the Boston Marathon bombing there. So I feel the travel advisory is insensitive."

The next step students are taking, says their teacher Malm, is to write to the French Foreign Minister. They are hoping to make their case about the warnings on the website.

"The reality is that if you look at the entire French government website," she says, "many of the neighborhoods that are being targeted across the country are neighborhoods of color, and these are not the only places where crime happens, especially not the places where crime happens against tourists."

The US State Department routinely issues travel advisories to US citizens travelling abroad, as do many countries including France.

"But what's really important to remember," says Malm, is that "we not paint entire neighborhoods or entire countries with the same brush. I mean Dorchester is an incredibly rich place in terms of resources, as is Mattapan, as is Roxbury. Saying not to come to these neighborhoods at night means don't come to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum."

"It means don't come for the best Vietnamese food in all of New England, or don't go on a bike ride along the Neponset River. The reality is if you're saying don't come at night, you're saying don't come at all, and there really is a wealth of interesting things to do in these areas."

Kyle summed up the feelings of student at Codman saying, "we really want to open up the discussion of what's racist and what's offensive, especially when dealing with people internationally. What might seem offensive to French people might be different to American people, and I feel like the French consulate, when they wrote the travel advisory, they weren't thinking that way."

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