The Galliano Hubbub This Week
UPDATE 5/8/13: The masterclass with John Galliano at Parsons has been cancelled.
It was a condition of our agreeing to host Mr. Galliano that we also hold a larger forum, which would include a frank discussion of his career. Ultimately, an agreement could not be reached with Mr. Galliano regarding the details of that forum, and so the program will not move forward.
I think it's really a shame that, for whatever reason, John Galliano decided that the topic of his hate speech was off limits. I think it was a fairly low risk proposition, given the tone of most of the student comments that were in favor of the workshop and, to my mind, therefore, the students most likely to sign up and attend. And if it did come up, and he's made amends and progress as his PR handlers and defenders claim, then it could have been addressed directly, quickly, and maturely. With this conclusion, I think everyone loses out. — Allie
We take a break from our regular style news to address a serious matter that touches on my life, and perhaps yours as well.
Fashion media, and the New York City hometown news, have been atwitter this week with the announcement that John Galliano, former designer at Christian Dior, will be teaching a masterclass at Parsons– my school.
You recall John Galliano from the last time he was in the mainstream news in 2011, for making horrifying anti-semitic comments in a drunken rage at a Paris bar.
You may also recall some of the gobsmackingly beautiful, technically infallible couture he has designed for Dior:
Not to mention his own line, and his own inspiring, entertaining, eclectic personal style.
When I first heard about it, I didn't have a strong feeling either way, although it definitely sent out a yellow flag in my mind as a questionable decision.
But when I heard all the adoring, non-critical, and actually flippant, gushing and defensive remarks from other students, my red flag definitely went up.
I posted publicly about my thoughts on Facebook and on the Change.org petition.
Here's what I think:
Almost since the beginning of my studies at Parsons, I have been shocked at the close-mindedness, insensitivity, and general lack of intellectual integrity, ethics, and just plain old-fashioned friendliness among the students. The behavior and attitudes I witnessed, the casual racism, the competitiveness and rudeness, seemed to be very much at odds with the impression I had of The New School University, of which Parsons has been a part since the 70s.
Parsons needs to come into the fold as part of The New School, and begin educating design students about the social justice principles that are integral to the University.
If I recall correctly, The New School was established by cutting edge, progressive academics, and welcomed Jewish academics at a time when they were in danger. The School of Fashion cannot continue operating in LaLa Land, as though the fashion industry exists in a vacuum of pure art, beauty, and cash.
Even if there were not a single Jewish student at the school, it is still questionable judgment to invite Mr. Galliano to teach, without a related component to his master class that would address drug abuse, anti Semitism, other forms of racism, and healthy work habits.
There is no doubt he has a lot to share in terms of creativity and technical skill, but he should demonstrate that he has learned a lesson about being a healthy, compassionate human being first.
In response to those who say we have no right to judge him, as we are all fallible human beings, or those who think it's "just a fashion class" and his personal life or issues of verbal violence and bigotry are off-topic, here's what I have been saying:
I think we have certain ethics and morals that all human beings generally agree on, and comparing people to these standards is not at all the same as wishing violence on people for their beliefs.
I'm not saying he doesn't deserve a second chance at having a profession in the public eye. I'm saying as a public figure he has a responsibility to teach others what he has learned by (hopefully) examining his own demons. Especially to young impressionable students.
My problem here is mainly with the fact that this gig was set up with no mention of his bad behavior, just pretending no one would notice or remember. I think it has to be addressed. Directly and openly.
What the administration says:
The President and Provost of The New School University–
We repudiate the hateful, deeply offensive remarks made in the past by Mr. Galliano. The New School is a university founded on principles of tolerance and social justice. Today, these values remain important to every member of this academic community.
We also believe that individuals must take responsibility for their behavior, that learning comes from even the most disgraceful mistakes, and that change is possible.
As a result of Mr. Galliano’s actions, he was fired from his position as head designer for Christian Dior; he was convicted and penalized by a French court of law; and he was censured by his colleagues in the fashion industry. He has since been counseled by the Anti-Defamation League, and has been working with mentors to re-build his career. He has also made efforts to address his drug and alcohol addiction.
As challenging as it is, even now, to host a workshop with Mr. Galliano at The New School, we believe our students can learn from his talents and achievements as a designer and from his personal failures. It is a condition of our agreement to host the workshop that it include frank discussion of Mr. Galliano’s career. New School doors are open to this kind of exchange and New School students are empowered to make their own decisions. We hope our students will take away not only a rich perspective on design, but also an understanding of how to safeguard their personal integrity and remain accountable for their actions amid the considerable pressures and temptations they may face in the world at large.
We understand that there are disparate views of our decision to host the workshop with John Galliano, but we believe the decision is in the best interests of the university.
I have sought a wide range of counsel in trying to resolve the challenges Mr. Galliano’s workshop presents to Parsons and the wider New School community. In the end, I believe the workshop is appropriate for our design students, and I would like to explain why.
To begin, let me be perfectly clear: There is no place for anti-Semitism or any other form of hate on our campus. Two years ago, when video of Mr. Galliano’s tirade circulated, I found his behavior and his beliefs to be repugnant, personally offensive, and professionally unacceptable. Dior fired him and a French court convicted him of hate-speech. Since then he has sought to make amends for his actions, to rebuild his career, and to address his personal challenges with drugs and alcohol.
Why should the School of Fashion go forward with this workshop? I have discussed this question with students, faculty, deans of the other schools within Parsons, members of the Parsons Board of Governors, and individuals outside the school. My answer is that we must learn to learn from positive and negative examples. To confront hate we must challenge it in the light of day and with reason and education. Universities must be places where we can engage these issues so that they don’t reside underground, where they fester and ultimately become far more dangerous. I believe our students can learn from Mr. Galliano’s successes as well as his failures. He has a soaring talent for fashion design that has been praised around the world. Yet because of abhorrent behavior he lost the position he held at the top of the industry. There is much to learn from each of these realities, including the lesson that the designer and his actions cannot be separated. Finally, I believe this workshop has value for our students because I believe education is, at its core, about the possibility of change, of engaged learning, and of personal growth.
Having Mr. Galliano on our campus will be difficult. But what is difficult is often right. No doubt this decision will be debated; I fully support that open debate. I enter the discussion with a firm belief that we are stronger than hate speech and that education is possible in even the most unlikely of places.
Even the Anti-Defamation League is taking a soft stance on the matter.
While the school's administration leaves it an open topic of discussion– "It is a condition of our agreement to host the workshop that it include frank discussion of Mr. Galliano’s career."— I don't think that's enough.
Young students, who regularly think nothing of mocking their fellow students for speaking Korean together, or actually asking Spanish-speaking students to speak English (both actual things I have witnessed), might need to have their hand held on this lesson. Especially when they give their full name to a reporter after stating "We all say stupid shit while drunk. We've all made Jew jokes." As though it were no more harmful than forgetting an acquaintance's name, or saying two plus three equals seven, in a sleep-deprived stupor.
I think the appropriate solution here would be to include a session in the master class, required for all the participating students, for a guided discussion on bigotry, substance abuse, and human rights.