I often talk about The Museum at FIT as a “crown jewel” on the FIT campus and for good reason. The exhibits mounted there are often groundbreaking—as well as breathtaking—and always erudite. The museum’s curators, under the leadership of its director Dr. Valerie Steele, are exceptional in their knowledge of fashion history and in their understanding of the role fashion plays in global cultures. The exhibits they prepare are grounded in solid scholarship and invariably offer unexpected and fresh perspectives. So when I attend an exhibit or a related symposium, I always learn something new. But as I wander through the exhibits, sometimes a little voice inside my head says, “Wouldn’t it be fun to have this…of just imagine wearing that….” Even when the garments are from another era, they are often so beautiful and well-constructed that they simply speak to me. There are two shows up now: Black Fashion Designers and Paris Refashioned, and here are some of the items I would be thrilled to own:
The other day, Professor Kam Mak’s latest U.S. Postal Service Lunar New Year stamp arrived on my desk. This is the 10th stamp he has designed for the USPS in its Lunar New Year series—and it is, as usual, brilliant.
Kam was selected by the USPS in 2008 to design a 12-year series of stamps to commemorate the Lunar New Year and it makes me very proud to see his beautiful, inventive illustrations get the broad national attention they deserve.
For this year’s stamp, Kam developed a design featuring a gorgeous rooster, the 2017 animal of the year in the Chinese zodiac, in multi-colored plumage amid pink flowers on the front of a red envelope.
I am privileged, because Kam has shared first-edition sheets of stamps with me every year since he began making them back in 2008. In fact, if you ever visit my office, you will see the 2008 stamps—featuring festive red lanterns—framed on my back wall. But my personal favorite in the series, which is also framed on the wall, is the 2009 edition with its elaborate lion’s head in bold greens and blacks.
The red envelope in this year’s stamp represents the New Year tradition in many East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures in which married couples give children in their extended families red envelopes that contain money to celebrate the holiday.
The tradition has special meaning for Kam. As an immigrant who arrived in New York’s Chinatown from Hong Kong at age 10, he found himself in the third grade with no English language skills. As he has said, learning English was difficult—and for him, times were hard. But the red envelope tradition always put a big smile on his face. It meant happy times.
What I appreciate about the stamps, aside from their beauty, is that the stories they tell build bridges among cultures—and that has always been important to Kam. People in our country see his stamp and want to know what the images mean and why the traditions they represent are important in other cultures. The red envelope tradition is one Kam continues today. Rumor has it that he just got new, fresh bills from the bank to put in envelopes for his children, nieces and nephews.
To the FIT Community:
In the wake of President Trump’s order on Friday to ban temporarily people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, I write to reaffirm FIT’s unyielding commitment to tolerance and inclusion. Just the other day, at the FIT Faculty Convocation, I spoke of our obligation as an educational institution to be open to a wide range of ideas and opinions, to welcome discussion and debate—and to revel in the broad diversity of students and employees we are fortunate enough to harbor within our corridors.
That the president’s order occurred on International Holocaust Day underscored its bitter irony and reminded us of America’s own dark days during World War II when we interned our own Japanese-American citizens and refused entry to desperate Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. FIT is not alone among higher education institutions in its profound concern regarding this order. I share with you a statement issued yesterday by SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and SUNY Board Chair H. Carl McCall:
“The State University of New York enrolls approximately 22,140 international students from 180 countries, including 320 students from the seven countries affected by the current ban on travel. SUNY is reviewing President Trump’s Executive Order and surveying its campuses to determine the impact it may have on our students, faculty, and staff both abroad and at home on our 64 college and university campuses.
“As always, our commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion are unwavering. Our founding principles and support for undocumented students, restated by the SUNY Board of Trustees at its meeting last week, continue to guide our actions as we review and react to new federal mandates with regard to immigration.
“SUNY leadership and university police will do all we can, within the law, to support any students, faculty, and staff affected by the Executive Order. In the meantime, we recommend suspending travel plans to the countries included, and urge individuals affected to keep in contact with their campus Office of International Student and Scholar Services.
“SUNY has established a website (www.suny.edu/immigration) to provide students and families with current resources as well as additional information as it becomes available.”
FIT currently has about 1000 international students. Three of our currently enrolled students come from the seven countries named in the order. At the moment, none of our 68 employees on visas or green cards are from the seven countries. This is a fluid situation and we ask that those members of our community who could be affected by the order be in touch with either our Office of International Student Services or our Department of Human Resources, as appropriate, for updates and further guidance. The college will continue to provide as much support as we have available.
Dr. Joyce F. Brown
We are all just returning from our winter break—brief for some, a bit longer for others, a welcome respite for all. It is the start of a new semester, a time I always find exciting. We come together, faculty and staff, having had time to relax, to refresh our minds and spirits, about as prepared as we can be for the intense, gratifying—and sometimes even elating—months ahead. After weeks of an almost eerie silence in the college’s halls and corridors, the campus soon will be booming with our students, filled with energy, ambition and creativity.
One of my first engagements will be to greet students new to FIT. Each semester, I find them eager and optimistic, but also apprehensive about whether they will succeed in FIT’s special, but demanding environment. I try to assure them that they never would have been allowed to step through our doors without our confidence that they can thrive with us, and then I hope they will believe me. I know that they will be supported by staff and faculty whose commitment never flags. I know their minds will be opened, talents honed—they will be stretched in ways they had not imagined.
In fact, just the other day, I was reading proofs of the college’s upcoming Annual Report, which this year is entitled “Talking Teaching.” It is focused on six professors from all of our schools and a variety of disciplines. They were asked to talk about teaching—and from that came an illuminating and inspiring discourse on technology, creativity, literacy, pedagogy and more. Their reflections on how they can bring out the best in their students simply reinforced my own appreciation of the mission of education and all that the FIT faculty has to offer—and why the start of every new semester always portends such an exciting narrative waiting to unfold.
One of my favorite end-of-year traditions is the UCE of FIT talent show. Filled with laughter and high spirits, it brings together the entire community around an event that is nothing but fun. The performers represent every corner of the college: staff, administration, and faculty. And what talent! It is truly moving to see the range of talent at FIT—and the heartfelt performances.
This year’s show played to a large and uber responsive audience in the Haft Auditorium and featured song, dance and poetry—as well as a moment of silence in commemoration of World AIDS Day.
For those who could not get there, let me provide a quick rundown of the acts:
Michael Zervos, from media services, and Susan Grassi, from financial aid, in full 1950’s regalia, served as “Master and Mistress of Ceremonies,” and took us back to 1978 as they channeled John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in a sing-along from Grease.
Carol Leven, from Communications and External Relations, accompanied on piano by Vice President for Academic Affairs Jack Oliva, presented a pair of American songbook classics: “They Can’t Take that Away From Me” and “Autumn Leaves.”
Bass guitarist Dan Cooper, from Film, Media, and Performing Arts, and his non-FIT quartet, played his own composition, “I Can’t Wait,” followed by lead guitarist Mark Lesseraux, from Art and Design, and back-up guitarist Lasse Savola, from Science and Math, with an “in memoriam” medley of songs by the late David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen.
David Lawton, from International Student Services, read two of his own poems.
He was followed by three colleagues from Receiving—Donnell Parson, Wilfredo Ingram and Garnet Barracks—each of whom first sang solo and then, as a trio, turned in a stirring version of “Feliz Navidad.”
Shalaia Craddock, from Direct and Interactive Marketing, brought down the house with her a cappella version of “Orange Colored Sky.”
Finally, the entire Staff Committee of the UCE—plus the performers—closed the show with another Grease sing-along, to a great round of applause. Here’s a video clip from the finale that might get you singing also!