February 21, 2020
To the FIT Community,
Today I am writing to update you on the preliminary steps we have taken and are continuing to take in response to the fallout of the MFA Fashion show on February 7. This moment, in our minds, is not about closing a chapter and letting wounds heal. It is the beginning of accountability. And we cannot expect our community to trust us without a full examination of how this came about.
First and foremost, we have commissioned an independent investigation of ourselves. Bond, Schoeneck & King, an external law firm, will immediately conduct a thorough and objective probe into the incident, including what led up to the show and what followed.
Second, we are urging a pause—and a request for context—around the role of Junkai Huang, the young FIT alumnus whose collection at the runway show is at the center of this controversy. Junkai has said, and his thesis notes and sketches support, that the collection he designed and produced was not aimed at invoking or provoking racial implications.
It also appears—based upon information available—that the styling and accessorizing used in the show were provided to him rather than chosen at his discretion. To us, this indicates that 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’s inexcusable and irresponsible—but also why we are commissioning an independent investigation.
With this in mind, as the investigation unfolds, we would ask the community to hold us—rather than Junkai—accountable.
As a result, we are announcing today that the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the MFA Fashion Design Department have been placed on administrative leave, pending the conclusion and outcome of the investigation.
Finally, we are doing the following:
- I am sending a personal letter of apology on behalf of myself and FIT to model Amy LeFevre for what she experienced at the show.
- I am sending similar letters of apology to all the models who were part of the same collection.
- My cabinet has already held multiple meetings with faculty and students to begin a deep and serious dialogue about the immediate, long-term, and systemic implications of the MFA-FIT runway show.
- On Monday, I am meeting with the college’s Diversity Council, and then later that day, with the executive committee of the Faculty Senate. Then on Tuesday, I have scheduled a meeting with student leaders to discuss how to prepare for a Town Hall meeting with all FIT students. More such meetings with students, faculty and staff will follow.
These are just first steps. I remain personally committed and determined, with your help, to resolve and reconcile these issues in our community.
Dr. Joyce F. Brown
Fashion Institute of Technology
February 18, 2020
Dear FIT Community:
On Friday, February 7th, as part of New York Fashion Week, the FIT MFA program in fashion design held its first graduating students’ runway show at Chelsea Piers. There were over 100 guests in the audience to witness both their achievements and creativity. As many of you now know, there was an unfortunate and disturbing reaction to the show that I want to address.
As we understand it, some of the students and models involved in the show were offended by the accessories—large prosthetic ears and lips and bushy eyebrows—used to style one particular collection. Calling them racist, one model refused to wear these items and indeed walked down the runway without them.
Currently, it does not appear that the original intent of the design, the use of accessories or the creative direction of the show was to make a statement about race; however, it is now glaringly obvious that has been the outcome. For that, we apologize—to those who participated in the show, to students, and to anybody who has been offended by what they saw.
Let me be clear: no person should be made to feel uncomfortable—particularly about race—in service of their work, job, livelihood, or course of study. Right now, we are actively investigating how this happened. And as you’ll read, we have outlined several steps to address the concerns and questions of students, faculty, and our community. We take this very seriously and our response and actions going forward will reflect that.
It is my position that all students must be afforded the safe space and freedom to learn and develop their voice, even if the voice is provocative to some. At the same time, I am deeply committed to creating a teaching and learning environment in which people are not offended or intimidated. There is a balance that must be struck between these two imperatives, one that is not always easy to find, but it is the college’s responsibility to find it. As both a former faculty member and an administrator, I appreciate how fine a line there is to draw between these two.
Consequently, we must, as educators, be certain we are providing students the cultural and historical perspectives they need as they realize their artistic vision. Simultaneously, we must provide guidance so that they recognize and respect potential risks and unintended consequences of their creativity. Regrettably, we failed in this instance to recognize a creative statement that could have negative consequences. Regardless of intent or artistic vision, we must be continually aware of that which constitutes an authentic artistic expression, and that which creates a risk to the intended message and interpretation of the art form. There is no room for error which can be interpreted as racism, homophobia, religious intolerance or any other kind of bigotry.
In the days and weeks that follow, as mentioned above, we will be taking several steps to address the concerns of our community. We will be engaging with our Diversity Council, our Faculty Senate, the UCE, and the Student Government Association to continue this important conversation; we will put in place safeguards to ensure that a situation like this will not happen again; and finally, there will be an ongoing investigation about the event itself—how it occurred, who was involved, and why there was no immediate follow-up.
This is not the moment to simply remind ourselves of all of the good and productive efforts we have made in the name of diversity, inclusion and civility. I have said that civility and diversity are a work in progress on this campus. We have to recognize as individuals and as a community that we cannot be complacent and that there is still much work to be done—and I am personally committed to making that happen.
Dr. Joyce F. Brown
Fashion Institute of Technology