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Griselda Gonzalez, Office of the President, co-chair of the Diversity Council

Griselda has been at FIT since November 1995. She was appointed as the Affirmative Action Officer in January 2008. She served as the Recording Secretary on the former College-wide Committee on Diversity for many years. During her tenure, she gained great knowledge of diversity and its importance at FIT.

Diversity is not a stand-alone function but a unifying thread woven into the fabric of everything we do as individuals and as entities. Only with a greater understanding of how to leverage the differences that diversity offers, embrace the opportunities that diversity generates, and overcome the fears that preserve the status quo, can we truly function in a state of excellence.
Michael Cokkinos Michael Cokkinos, Advertising and Marketing Communications, co-chair of the Diversity Council

Michael Cokkinos is an associate professor in the Advertising and Marketing Department at FIT. He teaches a variety of Advertising and Communication courses, including television production and computer applications. He holds a BA and an MA in Film and Media from Hunter College. Michael celebrates diversity as advisor to WFIT and the Culinary Arts Club. In his role as advisor to WFIT, he encourages students to explore every genre of music and culture. Michael is also director of World Music and has served as a judge for the New Age Voice World Music Awards in 2007 and 2008. He also hosts a show "FITINSIDEOUT," which examines the cultures and influences that make FIT the vibrant place that it is. As advisor to the FIT Culinary Arts Club, Michael teaches students to prepare diverse ethnic cuisines and to explore the vital connections of food and culture in our global society.

Jean Amato is associate professor of English and Speech, as well as the coordinator for the Asian and Latin American concentration

Professor Amato received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Oregon. Jean has also studied and conducted graduate research in Mainland China and Taiwan for over six years. Working in Chinese and English, her research centers on theories of nationalism, gender and the ancestral homeland in Twentieth Century Chinese, Diasporic and Asian American Literature and Film. Jean is an Associate Professor in the English and Speech Department and the Asian and Latin American Concentration Coordinator. Much of her focus at FIT is on interdisciplinary, cross-college, collaborative projects centered on diversity, student empowerment, community building, and cross-cultural exchange.

“I feel privileged to teach in the creative and diverse campus environment of FIT where I consider the promotion of diversity, inclusion, and cross-cultural exchange top priorities. I strive to build on the already open-minded curiosity about the world our students bring with them by helping them grow in their understanding of the global context of their local lives.”

Robyn Baxter, student, Fine Arts Department

Robyn Baxter (“Be”) is a visual artist, poet artist and entrepreneur. At FIT, she is a student in the Fine Arts Department. She is founder and CEO of RSB Expressions, an arts and entertainment company (, and she has produced two exhibitions. “Maasai and I," a visual arts exhibition aimed to raise awareness and funds for the Maasai tribe; and “Daddies & Daughters,”an annual art project that disproves the myth that men of color are not good fathers. She is a member of the Unveiled Unlocked Project / Bare Head Beauty Collective, which brings social understanding of what it means to be a bare-headed woman. She co-hosts an open mic show in Harlem called "The Bomb Shelter," which showcases young performers of the New Harlem Renaissance. Born to ethnic diversity before it became part of the national agenda, she has a keen appreciation for differences and individuality: “To exclude either side of diversity is like walking around with one contact lens. You can’t see the whole picture.”

Deborah Beard, Technical Design

Deborah Beard is the acting associate chair and assistant professor of FIT's Technical Design Department. She promotes diversity and inclusion in the classroom by mixing up her students for group projects so that they can interact with one another and learn about the rich cultural diversity at FIT. "I feel that the best way for people to truly understand diversity is to participate in it," said Professor Beard. "We shouldn't be afraid of difference. Education is the only way that people will understand and accept why people are the way they are."

  Kurt Bell, Advertising and Marketing Communications major

Kurt Bell is a student in FIT’s Advertising and Marketing Communications department. He works as a principal administrative associate for New York City’s Human Resources Administration Office of Domestic Violence and Emergency Intervention Services (ODVEIS). Kurt was born, raised and still resides in what he likes to call “the melting pot” of Harlem.

For many years, Mr. Bell has been a member of both the FIT Theatre Ensemble and the FIT Gospel Choir under Musical Director Donnell Parson’s baton. He is proud of being part of FIT Choir, which he sees as a catalyst for FIT’s diverse talents brought together in their love of Gospel music. Singing with students from all over the world has inspired Mr. Bell’s own belief that we must “come together to learn to become one,” a message that he is passionate about spreading.
Dr. Susan Breton, Counseling Center

Dr. Breton is a Clinical Psychologist who over the last 20 years has specialized in child, adolescent and young adult mental health. Her career includes work with inner-city youth in New York, New Haven, and Melbourne, Australia. At the FIT Counseling Center, in addition to providing individual and group psychotherapy to students, Dr. Breton develops and facilitates campus initiatives that promote diversity and help students acclimatize to their changing roles at college.

She has helped created group programs for the college’s international student population and an ongoing Diversity Awareness Workshop that raises awareness of our biases. Dr. Breton has facilitated the LGBT & Friends Chat Group and worked with the FIT-ABLE Office to develop Project THRIVE, a program that helps students with non-verbal learning disorders. “I believe that through the creation of multiple opportunities that explore differences in cultural customs and the similarities that underscore our humanity, we can help our students become the global citizens that they need to be.”

Robert Brown is an HR generalist with FIT Human Resources Management & Labor Relations. He is a strong proponent of diversity and has led different initiatives in his career to celebrate diversity and multiculturalism. Before coming to FIT he worked at NJ Transit as manager of Employee Relations for more than 20 years and led diversity events. His career began in finance. His work in human relations enables him to provide education on the value that diversity brings to an organization. He believes that every organization benefits from learning about diversity and embracing it as part of its culture. At FIT, he is interested in being involved in the planning of campus initiatives. He envisions organizing a Martin Luther King Day of Service, in which FIT students and staff participate in activities to improve their community.

“I believe diversity is important because it enriches the educational experience by learning from those whose experience, beliefs, and experiences are different from our own,” said Mr. Brown. “Diversity challenges stereotypical preconceptions; it encourages critical thinking; and it helps students, faculty and staff learn to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds.”

Deanna Clark, International Trade and Marketing

Deanna Clark, Esq. is an adjunct professor at FIT, where she teaches International Business Law. She is also an International Trade and Fashion Compliance attorney at Shayne Law Group in NYC.

She hosts “Fashion Compliance” an educational program on fashion law, and writes a blog on “International Trade for Everyday People.” In 2012 she received a Junior Faculty award from the International Foundation of Fashion Technology Institutes for her essay on the impact of the African Growth and Opportunity Act trade agreement on the African fashion industry.

She serves as vice president of the New York Chapter of the Organization of Women in International Trade and as an advisory board member of Africa Fashion Week. Deanna aims to increase the representation of minorities in fashion and the law, whether it is through hands-on experience, mentoring, or otherwise.

Deanna received her JD from Tulane Law School, an MA in Diplomatic Studies from the University of Malta’s Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, and her BA in Peace & Conflict Studies from UC Berkeley. You can follow her on Twitter @fashcompliance.

Renée Cooper is a 2013 Fulbright Scholar. She taught in Cophenhagen this past spring. She is a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Faculty.

She joined Fashion Merchandising Marketing in 2000. As acting chairperson from 2008 to 2010, she helped launch the department's fully online degree program. Cooper teaches Contemporary Retail Management and Leadership Devleopment for Retailing. 

Cooper was a buyer and sourcing manager for major companies in the industry. She continues to be FIT's liaison with the National Retail Foundation. She is co-advisor of the National Retail Federation Student Association and serves on the Board of Directors of the Black Retail Action Group.

Cooper earned a BS in Business Administration from Morgan State University and a Master's of Professional Studies in Global Fashion Management from FIT.

"Diversity is not just about ethnicity," said Cooper. "It's about inclusion of women leaders and multicultures into our mission to educate young people. The FIT mission is to educate young people. The FIT envrionment mirrors the diverse multicultural world of today. To me this is exciting and I love being a part of our vibrant community."

Bernard Dillard, assistant professor of Mathematics at FIT, teaches various upper-division mathematics courses, including Statistical Analysis, Data Analysis for Business Applications, and the Mathematics of Personal Finance. He holds a BA in English from Morehouse College and graduate degrees in Educational Studies and Applied Mathematics from Emory College and University of Maryland, respectively.

He takes pride in his community involvement, particularly his work to encourage at-risk youth to advance through education. He frequently speaks to youth groups, instructing them to rise above obstacles in a changing, diverse world. He is co-author of Elementary Statistics, a college textbook, and is currently finishing Moneymatics, a textbook exploring the mathematics behind personal finances.

In this spare time, Bernard enjoys modeling and acting, and has landed assignments for Sony Ericsson, Sean John, and HBO.

“To me, diversity means valuing and cherishing all perspectives, especially when they differ,” said Professor Dillard. “Through these varying viewpoints, healthy discussions can emerge and horizons can broaden.”


Patrice George is assistant professor in the Textile Development and Technology Department. Her BA in History of Art is from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is also a degree candidate in FIT’s graduate program for Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice.

In her career as a textile design consultant, she worked with many European and Asian textile producers. She also managed special textile projects in Jamaica, Laos, and Mexico, which were sponsored by the United Nations and other international development agencies. She received a Fulbright fellowship to teach computer-aided textile design at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, Finland in 1994.

After years of working abroad, she recognizes how the stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling can affect students. "The Diversity Council offers all students inclusion insurance, through its programs and events," said Professor George. "It is a joy to participate in the Council’s mission to expand awareness of cultural and social diversity on campus."

Patrice Goumba, Financial Aid

Associate Professor Patrice Goumba has worked in the financial aid field for nearly 17 years, with only a brief interruption in 2000, when he joined a research and financial analysis firm as an analyst. In 2003 he was appointed counselor at FIT’s Financial Aid Office. Mr. Goumba is a true product of diversity having lived and studied on three continents—Africa, Europe, and North America. He received his BS and MS degrees in Finance and Banking from Adelphi University and a master’s degree in Project Management from DeVry University’s Keller Graduate School of Management. He is fluent in both French and English.

Professor Goumba views workplace diversity as an asset that holds tremendous potential for personal growth. “I think of diversity in terms of synergy, where the uniqueness of each individual when combined can be a source of great effectiveness on all levels.”

Carlos Guevara is a Fine Arts major undergraduate at FIT. He began his major in Menswear Design in fall 2014. Carlos has deep experience in fine arts from interning at world-class museums and galleries, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Rubin Museum of Art, Tim Rollins & K.O.S., and George H. Lewis Fine Art. He is determined to use his time at FIT and New York City to learn the vocabulary and tools of the fashion design world and fine arts and to seamlessly fuse them together.

When he was asked what diversity means to him, Carlos said, "What affects us individually, affects the whole. Diversity is a perspective of acknowledging and embracing all of the unique traits present in our world."

Stephan Kanlian, Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing and Management

Professor Stephan Kanlian developed and serves as chairperson of FIT’s unique master’s degree program for emerging leaders in the cosmetics and fragrance sector, which is recognized as the industry’s American think tank. Each year he leads field studies for students to Europe and Asia, and mentors them in their Capstone research projects, which are presented to more than 700 attendees from industry. An industry expert, he has held marketing and business development positions in the corporate, public, and nonprofit sectors. He serves on the board of directors of the Personal Care Products Council, the industry’s regulatory and advocacy arm in Washington, D.C., and for many years as judge for the Fragrance Foundation’s annual Fragrance Awards. In 2008 he was a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“The ability to interact with diverse viewpoints and backgrounds in approaching business decisions is a key advantage that we can provide our students—one that will ensure their success as leaders and their empathy as managers and mentors,” said Professor Kanlian.
Elvin Elias Lee Kince, Graphic Design

Eli Kince is the curriculum chairperson for Graphic Design, and he has been developing the Graphic Design program for nearly 28 years. He earned his master’s degree from Yale University. He is the author of the books, Visual Puns in Design and I Remember Daddy: A True Fiction, and many articles. His consultation projects include the corporate image for Chase Manhattan Bank. He believes in mentoring young designers as they start their careers. His proudest project is Newwork Magazine, an award-winning publication started in 2007 by students from Graphic Design. Professor Kince has exhibited his artwork around the world for four decades. In 1995 he completed a one-man exhibition in Moscow. In 2006 he participated in the New York Historical Society’s “Legacies: Contemporary Artist Reflect on Slavery” exhibition. In 1987 he established an art gallery in Harlem.

“Diversity is understanding that the human experience has a lot in common, in spite of our perceived differences, and as we increase our exposure to each other we also expand our knowledge about ourselves.”

Melissa Melodia is a recent FIT graduate; she holds a Bachelors of Science in International Trade and Marketing. In her senior year, she served as president of the International Trade Student Association (ITSA), a student club on campus. During that time, she organized a campus event called Global Sourcing Today, where students were invited to learn about various international trading methods and different outlets for sourcing products from industry leaders. She also worked with other ITSA members and faculty on ITM departmental events. Melissa is currently working in Product Development in Little Me and Offspring, a leading childrenswear firm. She hopes to obtain an MBA in International Business in the near future.

“Diversity to me is the foundation of our nation,” said Melissa. “Whether it is individual cultural, belief, or lifestyle diversities; being diverse spurs a broad range of ideas, opinions, and innovation. It gives us the opportunity to combine infinite viewpoints with the goal of the best possible outcome for every situation.”

Jennifer Miller has been with FIT since 2001 and is currently an associate professor and counselor in the Career and Internship Center. In addition to counseling she teaches internship courses. She has been on the executive board of MNYCCPOA, a professional organization for college career counselors for the past eight years in various roles and is currently president. She holds an MSED from Hunter College and an MBA from Binghamton University. She is the co-author of a textbook, Creating Career Success: A Flexible Plan for the World of Work,which  includes the article, “Embracing Differences,” addressing such diversity topics as cultural values, diversity in the workplace, disclosing a disability, cultural differences in job search, discrimination and affirmative action, and harassment in the workplace.

“The diversity at FIT is truly inspiring,” said Professor Miller. “We have the opportunity to work with students from around the globe. Everyone is diverse in one way or another and that is why I endeavor to treat all students, staff and faculty with respect and understanding.”

Esther Oliveras, Faculty Services

Esther Oliveras has worked at FIT for more than 20 years and is currently coordinator of Faculty Services. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Work. Ms. Oliveras enjoys working in higher education and helping all college personnel achieve their goals more efficiently. She believes that one of education’s purposes is to promote diversity and inclusion, and with this purpose in mind she does her part by listening actively and empathetically to everyone who walks into her office. “In my job and in life, I practice tolerance,” Ms. Oliveras said. “I understand that you can only understand and appreciate others when you are able to walk in their shoes.”

Ms. Oliveras has the words “FIT is colorful” printed on her business card to reflect the make-up of the FIT community and because the phrase implies that differences of culture, gender, race and sexual orientation are all beautiful. “We just need to embrace each other’s differences and get moving toward a common goal.”

Dr. Eleanor DiPalma owes her personal and professional growth as well as the success of her teaching career at FIT to one of her core values…and that is, a deep respect for diversity. She is an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Dance at FIT. Her Ph.D. is in dance/movement analysis and psychotherapy from New York University. Dr. DiPalma has a training background in cross-cultural dances and has researched intercultural communications for her work as a dance movement psychotherapist, educator and training consultant.

Her lifelong passion for dance and movement has led her afar off to Alaska, China, West Africa, and Finland for study and teachings. She continues to fully support the value of diversity in the design and delivery of course curriculums as well as in her FIT communications and events planning.

“I am honored to serve on the Diversity Council to further the mission of FIT as it reinforces and promotes ‘differences’ and ‘inclusion,’ the core values that guide everything we do!”

Deborah Payton-Jones Deborah Payton-Jones, Student Life

For the past 20 years, Deborah Payton-Jones has worked in the Department of Student Life. She serves as the Evening Supervisor, Volunteer as well as the Flea market Coordinator and the University's Suny Voter Registration contact. During that time she has served as a Leadership Workshop facilitator, Diversity training facilitator, College-Wide Committee on Diversity member/ Chairperson and club advisor for several clubs, all in a Volunteer capacity. She wants the FIT family to know that she is very dedicated to ensuring that this Council represents all of us.
Delica Reduque Delica Reduque, Human Resources and Labor Relations

Delica Reduque is an Executive Associate in the Office of Human Resources and Labor Relations. She has been in education for over fourteen years as a teacher and an administrator. She received her BFA from Pratt Institute and her MSEd in Higher Education Administration from Baruch College. Delica has been involved with diversity issues since the beginning of her career, and she is excited to be a member of the new Diversity Council. She believes in diversity because inclusion and equality leads to an expanding world-view and a richer life experience for everyone.
Jean-Marc Rejaud, Advertising and Marketing Communications

Jean-Marc Rejaud is a professor in the Advertising and Marketing Communications Department. An expatriate from France, he brings a “diverse” mindset to the Diversity Council. “I will make sure that we look at diversity with a diverse eye, rather than an American eye,” he said, “and that we dry-run our assumptions to avoid stereotyping in our decision-making.”

Professor Rejaud has extensive international experience, having lived and worked abroad since he left France in 1994, and includes a two-year sojourn in the UK before coming to the U.S. The experience of working with individuals from diverse national backgrounds has taught him that we are at once very similar and very different. The ability to negotiate these differences, especially as a manger, requires knowing when we are in a “sharing” mode or a “difference” mode and responding appropriately.

“By understanding and embracing diversity, not only do you become a better human being and create a happier environment, but a better manager as well,” Professor Rejaud said.

Armane Robinson is a junior at FIT majoring in Advertising and Marketing Communications. She contributes her writing and photography to a number of FIT organizations (W27, the student newspaper, the Salsa Club, and the Faith & Fellowship Club), where she enjoys meeting new people and getting involved. In her last FIT internship, she wrote for a blog, Janine Just, Inc. She loves photography as a lens for self-expression and sharing her passion with the world. “I enjoy capturing the beautiful moments in life and all that the world has to offer,” Armane said.

For her, diversity is an introduction not only to the different cultures of the world but to different personalities as well. “Diversity is important in any community because you are receiving the opportunity to connect with others and to learn something new about them,” said Armane. “You’re able to receive a different perspective on life and understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.”

  Elena Romero is adjunct assistant professor in the Advertising and Marketing Communication Department. She has been with FIT since 2002 and teaches a variety of advertising and communication courses, including Mass Communication, Advertising and Promotion, Introduction to Journalism, Fashion Journalism, and Magazine Journalism.

Elena is the author of  Free Stylin’: How Hip Hop Changed the Fashion Industry (Praeger). She holds a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication and an MS in Publishing, both from New York University.

Prior to entering academia, Elena was associate editor of DNR (defunct) and contributing editor to WWD. Her body of journalistic work has covered fashion, music, and culture. Her work has appeared in Honey (defunct), Savoy (defunct), Vibe, Latina, Urban Latino, Sportswear International, and USA Today 

Elena is also adjunct assistant professor at The City College of New York. At CCNY, she is a member of the Divisional Committee on Inclusive Excellence.

"Diversity is being proactive in educating ourselves about the beauty and complexity of our differences," said Professor Romero.

Professor Sanchez-Fong is an associate professor in the Interior Design Department. Educated in architecture, she has a combination of academic credentials and field experiences with a deep grounding in both the theory and practice of interior design and facilities management. She first taught in New York City at Baruch College, from 1990-1994, and at FIT since 1996.

Professor Sanchez-Fong is the mentor and coordinator of the 2013 “Interior Design Relief Project,”created to help the families of Long Beach devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The project won the 2013 Art & Design Interdisciplinary Grant. This summer, through the Hope for New York project and in collaboration with professor Nicole Migeon, she coordinated the service-learning renovation of the laundry room at the Bowery Mission Women’s Shelter where students not only prepared the design solutions and associated working drawings, but also performed the work.

"Diversity is the civil rights movement of the 21st century," said Professor Sanchez-Fong."The challenge is to profoundly embrace our differences, celebrate their beauty, and understand its strengths."

Dr. Valerie Steele, Museum at FIT

Dr. Valerie Steele’s life and career have been informed by a belief in the importance of a culturally, ethnically, socially, and intellectually diverse environment. As founder and editor of Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, she rejected the traditional definition of “fashion” as the clothing of elite western women in favor of one that stressed the significance of fashion across cultures. When she taught at FIT (1985-1996), her courses included “World Dress,” and after she became chief curator at the museum she organized exhibitions such as “China Chic: East Meets West” and “Japan Fashion Now” and “A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk.” Under her leadership, The Museum at FIT has made a point of collecting and exhibiting fashions by African, Asian, and Latin designers. The Museum has also collected and exhibited working-class clothing.

“I am acutely conscious that tolerance of diversity is essential for peaceful coexistence,” Dr. Steele said. “I believe that schools and colleges provide an especially nurturing environment for cultivating acceptance and appreciation of difference.”

Melissa Tombro is an associate professor in the English and Speech Department where she teaches writing and theatre classes. She received her MA from the University of Chicago and her PhD from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She is a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in teaching and was awarded a full year sabbatical for work on her memoir in 2013 – 2014. Melissa’s research focuses on the use of writing for social justice and how performance studies can broaden the audience for active, political writing. She has led initiatives to make writing more present at FIT, co-hosting the SUNY Coucil on Writing conference in Spring 2012, creating an award series for English Composition students, a reading series for faculty writers, bringing in community artists to work with students and introducing writing courses in ethnography and performance studies. She serves as a workshop leader for the New York Writer’s Coalition, which leads writing programs for at-risk and underserved populations in NYC.

“For me, diversity is an ever-evolving term that attempts to encompass an idea where people from all walks of life can come together to create something meaningful and inclusive for the greater good of all.”

Rajasekhar Vangapaty Rajasekhar Vangapaty, Assistant Professor, Registrar

Rajasekhar Vangapaty (Raj) has been working in higher education since 1983 as an administrator and a faculty member. As a recipient of German and French government scholarships, Raj has learned and shared the cultures in Germany, France, England, Holland, Malta, Dubai. He speaks five languages and plays four instruments.

Raj is passionate about education and believes that if anyone thinks of acquiring anything of worth in this world, it should be in the area of education. Raj enjoys advising and counseling the diverse student body in his work as a Registrar. He volunteers in multi-cultural community centers in New York area, as well as conducts academic counseling workshop sessions outside FIT. Raj holds B.Eng. (OU), M. Tech. Eng. (IIT), M.S. Computer Science (Lehman) and Advanced Engineering from Ecole des Min, (France) and is presently pursuing his doctoral studies in Higher Education Technology.

Raj believes that diversity means understanding; that each individual is unique. There is always something to learn from one another and Raj believes everyday is a learning day!
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