When you think of the names Vassar, Drexel, Bard, or Emerson, you probably picture tree-lined campuses, or ivy-colored brick buildings, libraries, and dorm rooms. You almost never picture the men that these institutions -- and many others -- were named for: their founders, who are almost exclusively white.
So, while you might not consider words like "legacy" when shopping for your fave comfy university hoodie, designer Donte Neal did. His latest collection, a collaboration with Philadelphia Printworks, imagines fictional universities named after prominent black thinkers, inventors, artists, and leaders.
"I've always had an appreciation for the prestige in collegiate design and typography," said Neal, in a statement to MTV, explaining the origin of the project and his collaboration with the artists at Philadelphia Printworks – his former neighbors in a North Philly studio space. "Picking the school names was the hardest part of the process for me. My choices were inspired by the concept of creating a hypothetical but educational curriculum based on the legacies of the people we chose."
As for the people Neal did decide on, "There were so many names to consider," explained Maryam Pugh, Philadelphia Printworks' co-founder. "We knew we wanted a mixture of disciplines. So, we added Carver for biology and Baldwin for literature. We began to see the schools in our minds; imagining the types of students that would go to each. It was really hard to narrow it down."
The impact of the “School of Thought” collection is especially felt in the wake of recent headlines. Black students are using #StayMadAbby as a form of social media protest against Abigail Fisher, a white student suing the University of Texas. Fisher, whose case has made it all the way to the Supreme Court, is arguing that she didn’t make it into the university because she is white, and less qualified minority students “took her place.” (The University contends that her grades weren’t good enough to make the cut and that colleges have every right to consider racial background and student diversity as factors in the admissions process). It’s far from the only headline surrounding black students and campus climates -- portraits of black faculty members at Harvard Law School were defaced and racist incidents at the University of Missouri resulted in weeks of protests, hunger strikes, and the resignation of the University’s president.
Philadelphia Printworks sees the line as an extension of their activist beliefs. “It's important to continue to inject positive imagery,” says Pugh. “It's important for us to support the youth and to build and nurture safe spaces. I think this collection attempts to add to that space.”
The “School of Thought” collection is currently only available in sweatshirts and hoodies, but a planned drop of hats and tees is scheduled to launch in spring 2016. In the meantime, a thousand claps for a fashion line that's challenging cultural assumptions about minority students and university politics.