Faculty Convocation, Spring 2020

Thursday, January 23, 2020
Katie Murphy Amphitheatre

Good morning, and welcome to 2020. I'd like to start the new decade with this thought from Mark Twain: When asked if the rain would ever stop, he answered: it always does. One hopes he is right because we arrive at the new decade at a particularly stormy moment... one filled with rising anxiety and frustration so incessant and disturbing that it infiltrates our lives and results in waves of anger and division. It has been much on my mind lately---I see that Professor Sackin, too, has been thinking about it and I will share some of my thoughts in a few moments. But first this morning, I want to update you on a number of college initiatives. I will try to be as succinct as possible so that we will have ample time for our guest speaker.

First of all, I am pleased to tell you that 10 fashion design students from our inaugural MFA graduating class will present their collections at this winter's Fashion Week at Pier 59 in February. This is quite a coup for Kyle Farmer, chair of the program…for the Graduate School…for FIT…and of course for the students, whose work is bound to dazzle all on-lookers. I do not know yet whether the show can be live streamed but if it can be, you will all be notified. So congratulations to you, Kyle ---and to your students.

Before the break, you requested that we provide privacy and protection in a number of classrooms in the Feldman center. Given our shelter-in-place experience--­ and the state of the world in general--- the concern was about those classrooms that had been renovated a few years back with glass doors and walls to allow for light and transparency--- which was the preferred aesthetic at that time. So while you were away, we applied a frosted coating that decreases visibility---similar to the coating that covers the boardroom doors. But we went two steps further. We also installed a safety film, that is, a bullet-resistant coating which helps hold together broken glass even after it's been hit by gunfire several times . Then we increased the number of classrooms that were treated from six to 11 in order to take into account rooms that were adjacent to those that were scheduled for these upgrades. I hope this will alleviate some of the concerns.

As you know, we are in the midst of marking our 75th anniversary, and our friends in the Foundation are taking full advantage of it with a series of campaigns and special events. For instance, we are launching a drive called Inspire 75 and hope to attract 75 corporations or individuals who will each contribute $75,000 to support our innovation efforts. In April, we will launch an all-campus event in honor of our 75th. We are calling it Giving Day; the Foundation will be partnering with teams on campus to encourage support from alumni and other friends of the college. And if you want to give, they will not turn you down.

Our gala this year will be all about our many achievements since 1944. We will honor two of our most illustrious alums: Nina Garcia and Michael Kors as well as one of the largest chains of beauty retailers in the country, Ulta Beauty. It will take place at the end of April. And just before commencement, we are inviting to campus all of the still living commencement speakers, recipients of honorary degrees and presidents awards. This will be a bit of a reunion for all and also an opportunity to reinforce or to rekindle their interest in FIT.

Our 14th annual sustainability conference takes place on the 14th and 15th of April this year and the theme is Innovation to Impact. We are fortunate that environmentalist and super-model Amber Valetta will be our sustainability ambassador--­ and we expect she will bring in important influencers and celebrities, just as she did last year when she served as our master of ceremonies which helped make that conference such a success.

Speaking of innovation, I am very proud to tell you that we have just received our first patent---it is for the baby slip created by Lauren Zodel and Barbara Seggio in collaboration with Montifiore Hospital; this is essentially a shirt that serves as a sling in which a caregiver can safely hold an infant even if the caregiver falls asleep. This patent is a milestone for FIT---and well worth celebrating. It symbolizes our progress in achieving our strategic goal, indeed, our vision of FIT as a center for innovation where industry turns to collaborate and problem solve.. And we have a patent pending for Algiknit, our celebrated, pioneering start-up that developed a sustainable usable yarn out of algae. It was developed by a team of students guided by Asta Skocir and Theanne Schiros. My congratulations to all of you.

The Center of Innovation at FIT at the Brooklyn Navy Yard is up and running. Four faculty members, all with their own innovation research projects, are inaugurating the space this semester. We have trustees Deirdre Quinn and Pete Scotese to thank for this center---Deirdre donated space from her Lafayette 148 headquarters and Pete paid for the furnishings and technology. It can accommodate eight researchers at one time.

And speaking of innovative research, I am also proud to say that this semester, in another first for us, one of our students--- a presidential scholar and a VPED major--­ will be collaborating with a professor of engineering at Stony Brook to develop a technology that will allow the visually impaired to engage in sports.

And then there is the D-Tech Lab and its whirlwind of projects and activities, one more inventive than the next. There is one that I'd like to bring to your attention because it is a very ambitio us, very exciting long-term collaborative project that involves students and faculty from both the school of business & technology and the school of art and design---actually from 5 departments. They are developing an FIT fashion brand that will be marketed and retailed by our students. The goal is to create a living laboratory to explore the impact of emerging technology on the design, manufacturing and retailing of apparel and accessories. There will be both an affordable and a luxury line; sustainability, as you can imagine, will be a significant consideration. And components of the project will be integrated into the curriculum of production management and international trade. 13 students and five faculty members have been involved thus far but they are expecting that number to grow. All of this is under the guidance of the lab's executive director Michael Ferraro.

February is Black History Month and the national theme this year is African Americans and the vote---and in that regard, we will hold a voter registration drive and have, as a keynote speaker, an expert on the subject from Teachers College.

There will be a month-long series of other activates, including a conversation between Valerie Steele and Dapper Dan and another conversation with four pioneering African American ballerinas.

In addition, Gallery FIT in the Pomerantz Lobby, its back gallery and studio will feature an interactive exhibition celebrating Black Culture. Called Black In Time, it is the first exhibition curated by FIT students---with work by FIT studetns, faculty and alumni, among others, and supported by our Black Student Union, the Toy Department, and the School of Art and Design. You can learn more about all of this on the Diversity Council’s website and on Instagram.

As you know that rankings remain major sources of information and persuasion for many potential applicants and their parents; so it is good to know that we consistently do well. I am happy to report that our interior design department is included in Architectural Digest's December issue as one of the top 15 interior design schools in the country. The editors praised our focus on practical skills and environmental standards through multidisciplinary studies and hands-on projects. So my congratulations to every member of the interior design department.

So here we are, in our 75th year, widely acclaimed as one of the world's leading colleges of design, a designation made possible because of our unique collection of skills, our shared belief in the power of education and, I believe, a deep and profound commitment to our students But, as I mentioned earlier, we are living today in a quarrelsome, rancorous world and being battered day and night by a constant drum beat of anger and discord. There is bias and violence and political upheaval; there are school shootings, synagogue massacres, displays of nooses, mosques under attack, homophobia ... endless brazen episodes of racist behavior…and this barely touches the surface. Against these ugly forces, our attempts at civility seem almost quaint. But they are not. They are serious and they are essential. You will recall that just two years ago, in a spirit of collegiality, we mounted a campus-wide civility campaign with my office, the faculty senate, the union, and our chief diversity officer acting as partners. We understood how easily the plague of hatred and ignorance could infiltrate our community and wanted above all to reinforce the values we so cherish: brotherhood, tolerance, cross-cultural respect, collaboration---civility. I think you will agree that our goal remains a work in progress.

I think---and hope---you also agree that we cannot afford to be divided and polarized. We cannot afford to reflect the negativity that assaults us daily. We cannot afford the price of distrust or the impact of maligning the motives and character of each other. We cannot forget that our journey together has a destination, and that we have shared goals and aspirations. What binds us together is a commitment to do our best work and to be respectful of the work of others. This creates an environment that supports and inspires our students and that ultimately shapes a college that reflects our shared and collective interests.

We do not share this space to demonstrate our personal need for recognition or to show that one of us or one group of us is able to extract concessions from the other. Those are petty victories ---that leave us poised on the brink of incivility.

When we make progress in achieving the goals we set for ourselves, it creates a hopefulness for the future. When we do not make progress---when we stand still-­-we lose ground and the vacuum that is created too often gets filled with voices of anger, blame, division, distrust, polarization and suspicion. Indeed, when we stand still, we forfeit our opportunity to break new ground, to set higher goals, to change the norms and blaze new trails. We lose our right to hopefulness for being part of something big and bold and life-changing.

That is why we come here every day; that is why I come here every day. Not to talk about aspirations but to actualize them; not to dream it but to do it, in collaboration with you, and in dialogue with you that flows from basic trust and understanding and a mutual belief that we care about the same things. That we come here with purpose and clarity and transparency and respect. ..That does not leave room for suspicion, distrust and one-upsmanship.

We all know what we need to do to make this work. If you see something, say something... if you have a question, ask it. But say it and ask it where you can get a full answer. At the end of the day, we won't remember the words that led us astray or who spoke them. But we will never forget the silence of those whose voices could have kept us on a path to progress.

I will leave you with my heartfelt hope for each of you as we start a new decade, a new year, and a new semester. I hope that joy and fulfillment lie ahead for you... that wisdom and humility guide you, and that grace and the quest for truth are the forces propelling you. That is how we will move forward with purpose to break new ground and reach new heights together as a community.

Now it is my pleasure to turn the podium over to our guest speaker, Meghan Marsden, who is the co-founder of Veil Intimates. The only thing you really need to know about Ms. Marsden is that when she was 7, her Barbie was a CEO. That explains how it is that by the time Ms. Marsden was in her mid-20’s, she had founded several of her own companies. She has worked in international logistics, health care, real estate and now intimate wear---bras, to be precise. Located in Denver, she is an entrepreneur and innovator extraordinaire, and it is gratifying to know the role that FIT played in the development of a revolutionary new bra from Veil Intimates.