The New School's Jewish Students Union has expressed disappointment in administrators' decision to hire John Galliano to teach a class about emotion and fashion design at its fashion school, Parsons. Their sentiments are a reminder that while the fashion industry is eager to see Galliano's career recover rapidly and substantially, the extreme offense prompted by his two-year-old remarks — including the statement "I love Hitler" — might never fully vanish.
"The heart of the issue is Jewish students on campus do not feel comfortable with him being on campus teaching a class, even if he's unpaid," said the New School's Jewish Student Union president Jennifer Kaplan, a junior studying history and Judaism at the Eugene Lang College of liberal arts. A week ago, the school announced that the ex-Christian Dior designer, who was fired in 2011 after video footage of his anti-Semitic rant went viral online, would teach a three-day workshop at Parsons to eligible senior students.
The Jewish Students Union has launched a petition on Change.org, which asks, "This is a person who was fired from Dior for his anti-semitic remarks, who Natalie Portman refused to work with because of his remarks, so why is Parsons The New School for Design hiring him?" The petition was created before the students knew Galliano would be working unpaid (that information was announced Friday), though Kaplan says that information doesn't change the JSU's stance on the issue. The petition continues:
Parsons The New School for Design plans to hire John Galliano for a 3-day workshop. It doesn't matter if it's for three months or three days, hiring someone who has made such horrific comments shows that the school values Galliano over their entire Jewish student body. It shows they value him over their students' respect, peace of mind, and heritage.
It is disgraceful to hire someone who has made such inhumane comments.
There should be no room for this kind of person as a staff member on the faculty at Parsons. Imagine if the school were hiring a person who publicly voiced support for the KKK — there would likely be backlash because it's not right to have someone like that teaching at a school. But because this is someone who has made anti-Semitic remarks, people are willing to look the other way. This is unnaceptable [sic].
Kaplan said that the JSU's "active members all communicated, and we're just extremely uncomfortable with his hiring." She added that about 300 students subscribe to the group's email list, and that while they don't hold formal meetings, 30 to 50 students usually attend regular JSU gatherings, like Shabbat dinners. None of the active members study fashion design, according to Kaplan.
Kaplan said she's heard some criticism of her stance since she's not a Parsons student. "There's such a small amount of fashion students, and they don't have time to be part of a student association, they're so busy," she said. But she emphasized that as the president of the JSU, it's her responsibility to represent Jewish students across the whole campus.
The Anti-Defamation League has repeatedly voiced support for Galliano. Just last week, the ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman, told BuzzFeed Fashion, "I'm glad he's continuing on with his life. I don't have an issue, and I think people should stop hounding him on this one unfortunate happening in his life."
Despite this stance from Foxman, who also told BuzzFeed that he's now "friends" with Galliano, Kaplan said the JSU couldn't be sure that the designer's apologies were genuine. "After [his] statements, can someone no longer be an anti-Semite?" she wondered. "His statements were atrocious."
In response, Foxman provided this email statement to BuzzFeed Fashion on Monday, further explaining why the ADL has been supportive of Galliano's recovery:
"John Galliano has met with ADL on numerous occasions. He has expressed remorse for his actions [and] made a clear and unequivocal apology for his words. He has met with rabbis and Holocaust scholars and has gone on an intellectual and moral pilgrimage to learn from his past mistakes. He has also offered to do volunteer work with fashion schools in Israel. From every interaction we have had with him, it is clear that Mr. Galliano has made a very positive effort to redeem himself, and it is because of this effort that I am willing to stand up for him and to say, 'let's give him a second chance.'"
The New School would not comment on the JSU's petition, instead providing the same statement emailed to press last week, which read, "We believe that over the past two years Galliano has demonstrated a serious intent to make amends for his past actions, and as part of this workshop, Parsons students will have the opportunity to engage in a frank conversation with Mr. Galliano about the challenges and complications of leading a design house in the 21st century."
Kaplan said that JSU officers emailed New School Dean Joel Towers Tuesday night, and he responded "extremely quickly." Kaplan didn't want to go into detail about what the email said, but revealed that Towers, who is Jewish, described his personal connection to the Holocaust. "It was a fantastic email," Kaplan said. "It didn't say everything we wanted, but it was very personalized." Other administrators send officers less personalized responses.
Ultimately the JSU's goal is to stop Galliano from teaching on campus. The organization is not sure what actions it will take if administrators don't stop the class (a protest wasn't ruled out). But Kaplan suggested Galliano just might be able to do something — though it's unclear what that would be — to make the JSU feel comfortable with his teaching appointment. "If he reached out and said, hey, I want to do this, we'd have to discuss it with the club and see how people feel about that," Kaplan said.