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Opinion: ‘Say yes to the opportunity,’ Columbia should consider the advantages of courses that grant valuable experiences as they undergo course restructuring

Maria Sanchez Medina

The Fashion Scholarship Fund is a leading education and workforce development nonprofit in the United States. They award over $1.4 million each year to students with diverse backgrounds. This scholarship helps students succeed in all sectors of the fashion industry, including design, merchandising, marketing analytics and business strategy. 

The Fashion Studies Department at Columbia offers a 300-level course called “FSF Scholarship Competition” that guides students through the process of completing the Fashion Scholarship Fund (FSF) case study for a chance to be a Fashion Scholarship Fund scholar. I took the course as a first-year, and while it was one of my most challenging academic experiences, it proved to be pivotal in the trajectory of my early fashion career. 

The case is submitted in the fall of each school year, making me a sophomore when I submitted the case I worked on in my first year. Through my participation in the class, I was named a 2023 Virgil Abloh Post-Modern scholar from the Fashion Scholarship Fund. That year, 127 students won the scholarship competition, and among them, 27 of us were selected to be Virgil Abloh Post-Modern Scholars—an award dedicated to young black fashion professionals. Along with the monetary prize, recipients gain life-long connections and an all-expenses-paid trip to New York to attend the awards gala.

Three days are filled with networking, learning, and celebrating your accomplishments. During this time, you sit in rooms filled with executives, presidents, and recruiting managers from top companies in the world. Companies such as LVMH, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Denim Tears and many more. Four other Columbia students experienced this, too. We took advantage of every room we were in, and that weekend I learned about more opportunities in fashion than I ever thought existed. 

I am now a two-time FSF Post-Modern scholar who has just secured her dream internship because of FSF. Without FSF, the opportunities and connections made would not have been possible.

It is extremely hard to work in fashion without connections, and even harder if you are not rich and white. FSF has truly committed to breaking down barriers in the fashion industry, as proven by its partnership with the Virgil Abloh Foundation. Their actions are not performative but are felt by students like me. As a young Black woman trying to break into fashion, I have had reservations about whether I would be accepted and listened to in the rooms I occupy. Each time I enter a Zoom call with high-ranking professionals, because of my experience with FSF, I feel heard and listened to with an organization like them behind me. That is no small feat in an industry known to make voices like mine small.

Life-changing opportunities in this industry often come at a cost. The fashion industry has a history of offering internships that are unaffordable to the average person. For my internship this upcoming summer, I would not have been able to afford to relocate to NYC had it not been for the scholarship that I received from FSF and the opportunities through Columbia’s Fashion Studies Department.

As the college undergoes a major restructuring, with lower enrollment expectations and less emphasis on general education, these kinds of experiences and opportunities need to remain a priority.

Tiffany E. Barney is a junior fashion studies major and double journalism and fashion communication minor from South Holland, Illinois.

Submit an op-ed of no more than 850 words here or email editorialboard@columbiachronicle.com

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