Highlighting FIT’s Diversity: Call for Grants

DiversityCouncilLogoI am delighted to see the growing interest on campus about diversity in general, but also in the annual grants available through the Diversity Council. Creating a “purposefully diverse” campus is a key goal of the FIT Strategic Plan and the work of the Diversity Council is a big part of meeting that goal.

So it is gratifying to see that in just a few years, the Council’s grants have yielded a range of impressive projects, everything from dance performances to scholarly work on diversity and globalization to intriguing art pieces. Anyone who passed through the Pomerantz Center in early 2014 will recall the work of grant recipient Pansum Cheng, sculpture technologist in the Fine Arts department, who installed a fascinating sculpture, playfully entitled Miss Communication in the lobby. In fact, I posted about it last spring. The sculpture took months to build with the help of numerous FIT students, and required the stringing of fishing line between 2,400 empty cans attached to two temporary walls.

“It was born out of the experience of people not being able to align with each other in a common experience,” Cheng said of his installation. “Age, sex, background, and every experience can change the way you look at things.”

Miss Communication

Well said. And this year, diversity grants continue to change the way we look at things. One grant funds the Film and Media Screening Series, which is bringing to campus six notable filmmakers for in-person presentations of diverse voices in film and media. For instance, in October, Venezuelan director Mario Pagano presented his dramatic feature Backseat Fighter, set in the world of underground boxing. On November 10, director Jennie Livingston will present Paris Is Burning, her award-winning documentary on New York’s gay and transgender African-American and Latino ballroom culture of the 1980s. Another grant funds the upcoming “Women and Technology: Symposium” and “Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon,” which are designed to address the under-representation of young women in the “contemporary digital space.”

When I established the Diversity Council grant program, I knew the FIT community would respond with new, creative and unexpected ways of looking at diversity issues. And I have not been disappointed. As the due date for the next round of grant applications approaches, I look forward to hearing your ideas to promote diversity at FIT.

Grant proposals are due November 2, 2015 for Spring 2016 events. Proposals for Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 events are due March 1, 2016. To learn more about applying for Diversity Grants, visit the Diversity Council website.

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Claudia Rankine Visits FIT

ClaudiaRankinePoet, playwright, and social commentator Claudia Rankine shared a little inside information with the audience of students and faculty when she appeared in a packed Katie Murphy Amphitheater at FIT to give a talk entitled “The Creative Imagination and Race.”

As a high-school student, Ms. Rankine told the rapt audience, she had travelled from her home in the Bronx to take a class at FIT in pattern-making.

“I don’t think the actual dress was ever made,” Rankine said, adjusting the bright-red scarf she wore over a black dress. “But I did make the pattern.”

It’s good to know that FIT played a part, however modest, in the development of one of the most insightful and incisive of contemporary American writers and commentators. And it was intriguing to note that Ms. Rankine interest in visual arts plays a vital role in her most recent poetry collection, the best-selling Citizen: An American Lyric.

Projected on a large screen as she spoke were a few of the many arresting images that appear in Citizen. For her talk here at FIT she selected an eclectic mix ranging from a pair of Nick Cave’s full-body Soundsuits to taxidermy artist Kate Clark’s Little Girl to Michael David Murphy’s photograph Jim Crow Rd., Flowery Branch.

In a soft, soothing voice, Ms. Rankine explained how each image came to be in the book as she wove each image into her poetic narrative of interpersonal racism in American life today.

Rankine’s embrace of visual art is perhaps as important to the success of Citizen as her mastery of poetic form. The images she projected as she spoke informed the poetic narrative just as the narrative informed the images, each underscoring the other in a way that caused the viewer to see the old, familiar world in new, unexpected and sometimes unsettling ways.

Rankine’s talk on the creative imagination was well-received here—even if she never did make that dress back in high school—and that makes sense. FIT prepares students for careers in the world of design, art, business and technology. Students and faculty alike at FIT embrace the creative imagination. We embrace the new, the unexpected and even the unsettling as we, like Rankine, take a good, hard look at the old, familiar ways of speaking to each other, and imagine something better.

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College Rankings Revisited

Two weeks ago, FIT was named as one of the top five fashion colleges in the world by The Business of Fashion—the popular daily digital newsletter that covers the world of fashion globally. For me, it is a confounding piece of news. On the one hand, I want to cheer and fist-pump—and on the other, I want to sigh and say, “Oh no…not another one of those rankings that so mislead the public.”

Followers of my blog know how I feel about college rankings. But before I go there, let me state the facts, at least in terms of this most recent finding and several others that have recently been released.

In The Business of Fashion, FIT ranked number 5 in its “best overall” category worldwide and number 3 worldwide in its “most influential” category. The Washington Monthly placed FIT at number 8 in the “Best Bang for the Buck” category for colleges in the Northeast while AffordableSchools.net ranked us 5th in its list of the country’s most affordable bachelor’s programs in “entrepreneurship.” Earlier this year, Fashionista.com ranked FIT 6th in its 2014 list of the top 50 fashion schools in the world. In another category of rankings, Payscale.com—the salary, benefits and compensation information company—reported that FIT alumni ranked second in the nation among community colleges in terms of median mid-career salaries (at $72,100) while our bachelor degree art majors came in second as well with a median mid-career salary of $91,800.

Like many college presidents, professors and higher education professionals, I view these rankings with skepticism. If you really think about them—and their criteria and sources of information—it is hard to understand why the public thinks they are useful. As I said in a blog last fall, their quantitative approach to educational institutions and questionable criteria invariably fail to capture the true zeitgeist and quality of a college. Nor can they predict if a college is the right fit for a particular student, no matter how highly it is ranked.

And that, for me, is the biggest issue. Each college and university has its own “special nature,” a nature, environment and mission far too complex to be portrayed through numerical algorithms. And each prospective student has his or her unique nature as well—a nature that is also too wonderfully complex—to be reduced to numerical algorithms. So it is difficult at best to see how a college’s numerical ranking can predict whether students A, B, or C would thrive there.

I grant you that selecting the “right” college for a student is a challenging job. Over the years, I have met countless prospective students and their parents as they tour our campus; I have talked to them about their questions and concerns—felt their confusion and excitement as well. It is hard not to be sympathetic. How much simpler it would be for them if FIT, or any college, could be captured in a survey! How much simpler if they could trust that being ranked number three or five would ensure happiness and success in their college years.

So it is hard to ignore the rankings and to pretend that they do not carry weight in my world, especially in that ephemeral realm of “reputation.” I know how important they are to so many of our constituents and smile with pleasure when I see the pride they take in FIT’s good showings. It is in that context in particular that I want to cheer and do my happy dance. I just hope that students and their families recognize that surveys are only one of many resources available to help them in their college selection—and that when they start looking, they research well and deeply to determine the many ways colleges do or do not match up with the student’s individual interests, talents, needs and ambitions.

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Graduate Students Research the Changing Beauty Landscape

IMG_6180As we come closer to the launch of our innovation center, I am reminded of the kind of innovative work that comes out of our pioneering MPS program in Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing and Management. This comes to mind now because the Class of 2015 has been invited to present at the Luxury Interactive conference—both in New York and in London this coming October. These are very prestigious gatherings of over 300 executives representing top global brands, so it is quite a coup for them and for FIT.

I had the pleasure of attending the Class of 2015’s Capstone presentation in June. The MPS program has been in operation for 14 years and I try never to miss these events because they are always so outstanding. Indeed, the program is becoming known as the beauty industry’s “think tank,” and for good reason. This year, the Capstone theme was “The Future of Luxury”—a critical topic driving every consumer-focused business today, including the beauty business. With LVMH as a sponsor and in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group, our students conducted original research examining the values of new luxury consumers, new epicenters of luxury and new luxury platforms and offered a plethora of important and compelling new information.


» Read the 2015 Capstone White Papers

Indeed, the MPS program now has developed a rich enough archive of research from past Capstone projects that for the first time, students were able to cite previous Capstone data in their presentations. Going forward, I am sure our students will build on that archive and offer an important, continuing resource of evolving information for industry.

I couldn’t help thinking about FIT’s founders as I listened to the presentations that evening in June. When they opened the doors to FIT in 1944, they wanted it to become an “MIT for the fashion industry.” Imagine how proud and amazed they would be to see the kind of advanced research that this program produces—and to know that FIT students are now being invited to share their research with industry internationally.

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Bright-Eyed Bebe

10FO4210There is a saying familiar to every parent that one is only as happy as one’s unhappiest child. The same is true for those of us who house, care for, pamper, and nurture—we never own—pets. As some of you may know, I am privileged to share my life with Bebe, a gorgeous, brilliant, and commanding 12- year- old Bichon Frisé. If you live or work on campus or nearby, you may have seen him over the years on his daily walks, head up, briskly moving along, happy to greet you, confident and—frankly—somewhat royal in his bearing. He is short as dogs go, but he has a Big Dog attitude and will never let you forget it.

In recent months, however, Bebe’s sense of his Big Dog self has been challenged. Actually, it began last year when I noticed that those big black shiny buttons that are his eyes were starting to look a bit cloudy and grey. As time went on, he began bumping into things as he dashed—or even wandered—around the house. In any other dog, you would have heard whimpers and whines or yelps of complaint. Not my Bebe. He is a brave and tough little guy who never complains about anything. (Too déclassé for him.) By now, of course, I knew—as did he—that he was going blind. I had taken him to his vet who diagnosed cataracts. Who knew that dogs can get cataracts? And as it happens, Bichon Frisés are prone to cataracts, as are dogs who have diabetes. And unfortunately, Bebe also has diabetes. Now we had to decide whether to have the cataracts removed.

While the prognosis was good, the idea of surgery certainly made me nervous. Bebe is an older dog…well, perhaps “mature” is the better word. He is also sensitive to anesthesia. So given that, along with his diabetes, the decision to proceed wasn’t clear cut. Dogs do adapt to blindness and with his exceptional intelligence and courage, I felt he could do well. However, I finally decided he deserved an opportunity to have his eyesight restored.

Reader, I am happy to tell you the operation was a success! The surgery took place in late June. He spent one night in the hospital during which I suffered more than he did. The recuperation period, however, was another story. In order to keep his eyes protected, he had to wear what is called an “Elizabethan collar”—you fashion historians will know why. It is really a cone reminiscent of the gigantic neck ruffs that distinguished 16th and 17th century English apparel. At first, the vet had it fastened with a black and white polka dot bow—not at all Bebe’s style. But bow tie or not, Bebe hated it.


Anyone would. Oh, he didn’t complain, but you could tell that he was uncomfortable and that it made him antsy. He had to constantly recalculate his movements and the spaces around him: the walls, the corners of rooms and buildings, doorways, even his food bowls. He had to figure out how to fit into some of his favorite spots: under certain pieces of furniture, for instance, or into the red carrier that I use to travel with him. He loves this bag. How on earth could he maneuver that long clumsy cone into this beloved bag? Bebe and I managed this one as a team: we inched his little body into the bag tail-end first. But in general, he is clever and creative. He managed, by experimentation, to get around quite confidently. Most important, of course, now he could see. Day by day, his vision improved. Day by day, he became the happy dog-person we were used to having in our midst.

Today Bebe is confident and commanding. His vision has returned; the cone is off. Once again, he trots around the neighborhood and recognizes the usual landmarks: the trees, the buildings, his doggy neighbors. Once again, he dashes around the apartment without bumping into walls and chairs and misplaced objects. Once again, his button eyes are bright, black and shiny, and we are grateful for his renewed vision and spirit.

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