Is racism the newest high fashion fad? I’m sincerely asking folks. I feel like it’s been a prolonged cycle over the last couple years of a racist thing happening and then fashion-heads feigning shock that people were mad. This time the culprit is the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
Over the weekend, The Root reported about a fashion show the school held that featured some styles that could politely be called racist. Now, according to NBC News, the officials responsible for throwing the show have been put on leave. Joyce Brown, the president of the school, announced that Mary Davis, dean of the School of Graduate Studies, and Jonathan Kyle Farmer, chair of the MFA Fashion Design Department, have been put on administrative leave pending the results of an investigation into how and why the show went down the way it did.
Brown wrote in a letter to students, “Those in charge of and responsible for overseeing the show failed to recognize or anticipate the racist references and cultural insensitivities that were obvious to almost everybody else.” That honestly hits the nail on the head. It was so blatantly obvious that this was not the move. Anyone with eyes and a passing knowledge of Twitter could take one look at the accessories and go “That ain’t it, chief.”
When one of your models is refusing to wear the accessories because they were flat out racist that should’ve been the moment the folks in charge went “We might have fucked up.” Instead, they chose to try and pressure black model Amy LeFevre into wearing the accessories and continued the show as is.
Updated: Friday, 5/28/2020, 1:31 a.m., ET:
Per an email to The Glow Up, Dean of Graduate Studies Mary Davis released a statement on the matter:
Press reports about my being placed on administrative leave as Dean of FIT’s School of Graduate Studies suggest that I had responsibility over the content of the fashion show in question, including any use of accessories. This is false and, frankly, defamatory. Let me be crystal clear - my responsibilities at FIT do not include providing direct oversight or approval of students’ creative work. Not only would this be very difficult as a practical matter—there are seven masters programs at the School of Graduate Studies—it would breach FIT’s policies designed to protect the creative freedom of faculty and students from interference by administrators.
From my first day at FIT, I have had an open-door policy for faculty, students and staff and welcome anyone to come to me with any ideas or concerns. No one did that regarding the accessories in question until four days after the show.
Department Chair, Jonathan Kyle Farmer, has publicly taken full responsibility for the addition of the accessories in question and has publicly apologized. The short-term independent contractor hired by FIT to produce the show has also publicly apologized for not recognizing that the accessories were insensitive and has admitted to negligence in dealing with the situation. I, however, didn’t even know of the existence of the accessories until I saw them presented at the show, nor would have there been any reason for me to know.
Four days after the show, two students in the Fashion Design program emailed me stating that they had concerns about the accessories. I immediately arranged individual meetings with them to discuss their concerns. The following day, I had a discussion with Professor Farmer concerning his responsibilities in this matter. I followed up when the students were next available with a group meeting including all second-year students in the program. The purpose of this meeting was to gather more information, and above all, to express my support for them, remind them that I am always available to them, and reiterate that I wanted to hear directly from them if they had concerns.
I then provided a detailed memo concerning these meetings to my immediate supervisor, Jack Oliva, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and to Cynthia Glass, Vice President for Human Resources. Both acknowledged receipt and Dr. Glass specifically thanked me in email for the “informative” memo. Neither directed or even suggested that I take any further action.
Racism in any form is antithetical to the mission of FIT and to my personal values. Providing an inclusive, supportive environment in which all students can learn, be creative and thrive is essential to all education. I have always taken full responsibility for those matters that are my responsibility, however, I should not be held accountable or blamed for not stopping activity that I did not know existed.
“[FIT’s] actions in putting Dr. Davis on administrative leave before an investigation has been conducted is premature and unnecessarily damaging to the stellar reputation Dr. Davis enjoys in the academic and fashion communities,” read a quote from Marjorie Berman, partner, Krantz & Berman and counsel to Dr. Davis, in the same email. “We look forward to the facts surrounding the fashion show being fully revealed so that Dr. Davis can clear her good name.”
This was yet another instance where they should’ve just listened to a black woman. Now they’re under investigation and may get fired. You hate to see it.