Nothing at MIT is Broken. The System is Working Just the Way It Is Supposed To.

I just finished reading Ronan Farrow’s piece in theNew Yorker about Joi Ito, Jeffrey Epstein, and the MIT Media Lab. I am feeling angry, disgusted, nauseated, used, and heartbroken.

Joi Ito knew. He knew exactly who Epstein was, what he had done, and how it would look if word got out the Media Lab had any association with Epstein. 

That email Ito sent, that fake finger-in-the-dimple, “I’ve been a silly boy” apology he sent was 100% pure bullshit. 

I can only imagine the thrills he must have experienced, playing with the big dogs, rubbing elbows with billionaires, thinking he was one of the elite rulers of the tech world, convinced that the money and the prestige would be enough to ensure he could avoid any consequences. And by “he” I mean Ito, although the same description applies to Epstein, of course. Yes, Joi, the same description applies to you and Epstein. How’s that for a thrill?

When Tarana Burke, Beth Ann McLaughlin, and I got the Disobedience Award, I naively believed that the three of us deserved that award, and that the Media Lab had woken up to the need to address the harm done to women by harassment, bullying, and violence. I took it at face value, and that face was a mask. Behind that mask was a culture that does not value anyone who is less than fabulously wealthy and part of the elite. Women who are survivors of assault, targets of harassment and bullying, leaving STEM careers behind because the culture is too toxic, simply do not matter. We’re easily replaced. Just like those “assistants” that Epstein brought with him on his visits to the Media Lab.

Joi Ito. Peter Cohen. Rafael Reif. You and your billionaire buddies and your “I didn’t know, I didn’t see” bullshit. You are no different from the men who harass and assault and rape women because they know, they are so certain, that the system will protect them. You worked that system for years, with those “anonymous” donations and mystery calendar entries.

I would add to the calls for your resignation, but what good would that do? You could all resign, and the next people in your jobs would, most likely, value the same things (regardless of what they say the value), and be just as primed and ready to succumb to the allure of money, and power, and prestige.

Nothing at MIT is broken. The system is doing exactly what it was set up to do. And that has nothing to do with protecting anyone from violence or ensuring diversity in STEM. It has to do with money, and power -  who has it, who can get it, who wields it. So the question is: How do we break the system?