The MIT Media Lab controversy and the return to “radical courage”, with Arwa Mboya, student at the Media Lab – TechCrunch
People earn prestigious price in tech all the time, but there is something different about The daring price. Unless you’ve lived under a literal or proverbial rock, you’ve probably heard of the late Jeffrey Epstein, a notorious child molester and human trafficker who also turned out to be a billionaire and successful philanthropist. to become an omnipresent figure in certain elites. science and technology circles.
And if you’re involved in tech, the rock you lived under should have been completely isolated from the internet to avoid reading Epstein’s links to MIT’s Media Lab, a prime destination for most tech minds. brilliants of the world, also known as “the future factory”.
Conversations around the Media Lab last week were hotter than fuel rods in Fukushima, as New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, perhaps America’s most feared and famous investigative journalist today , exploded which to some were new revelations that Bill Gates and others had given millions of dollars to Jeffrey’s Media Lab (no fucking relationship, thank you very much!) by order of Epstein. Hours after Farrow’s article was published, Joi Ito, the legendary but now besieged director of the Media Lab, resigned.
But long before Farrow stepped in or Ito stepped down, students, faculty, and other leaders at MIT and far beyond were already on high alert about this story, thanks in large part to Arwa. Michelle Mboya, a graduate student at the Media Lab, from Kenya to Yale University, where she studied economics and cinema and learned to create virtual reality. Mboya, 25, was among the first public voices (arguably the very first) to forcefully and thoughtfully call on Ito to step down from his post.
Imagine: you are heading into the second year of your first graduate degree, and you find yourself facing a man who, when Barack Obama took over Wired magazine for an issue as a guest editor, was one of the few people the incumbent United States President had asked to interview personally. And imagine that this man was the director of your graduate program and the reason you decided to study there in the first place.
Imagine the pressure that entails, the courage required. And imagine, soon after, being completely justified and celebrated for your actions.
This is precisely how far Arwa Mboya has come in recent weeks, especially when human rights technologist Sabrina Hersi Issa decided to fund the Bold Prize to honor Mboya’s courage, which has now raised more than $ 10,000 to support her work in progress (full disclosure: I’m one of over 120 contributors to the award).
Mboya’s plea never focused on Joi Ito personally. If you get to know her through the interview below, in fact, you’ll see that she doesn’t wish him any harm.
As she wrote in MIT’s The Tech nine days before Farrow’s essay and ten days before Ito’s resignation, “It’s not an MIT problem, and it’s not a Joi Ito problem. This is an international issue where a global network of powerful individuals have used their influence to secure their privilege at the expense of women’s bodies and lives. The MIT Media Lab was dubbed “The Future Factory” on CBS’s 60 Minutes. We are meant to reflect the future, not only of technology but of society. When I call for Ito’s resignation, I am fighting for the future of women.
Of at the time I read it, I found this to be a magnificent and truly bold statement from a student leader who is an inspiring example of the extraordinary caliber of students that the Media Lab draws.
But as I got to know her a little bit since reading her, I’ve learned that her post is also about more. It’s about the fact that the women and men who called for a new leadership in light of Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse and the complicity of other leaders did so in pursuit of their own inspiring dreams for a world. better.
Arwa, as you’ll see below, spoke at MIT because of her passion for using technology to inspire radical imaginations among potentially millions of young Africans. As she talks about both the Media Lab and its larger vision, I think she’s already starting to provide that inspiration.
Greg Epstein: You have experienced some of the most dramatic weeks of any student I have met in 15 years as a chaplain at two universities. How are you doing now
Arwa Mboya: I’m pretty good. I’m not saying that for the sake of saying it. I have a great support network. I’m in a lab where everyone is amazing. I am very tired, I say. I have traveled a lot and faced this while trying to focus on writing a thesis. If anything, it’s more like overwhelmed and exhausted than not doing well per se.
Epstein: Looking at your writing – you have a great Medium blog that you started long before MIT and maintained while you were here – it seemed to me that by expressing your mind and heart on this Media Lab issue , you did exactly what you set out to do when you came here. You have decided to be brave, to live life, as the quote from Helen Keller on your website says, either as a great adventure or as nothing.
Plus, when you first got to the Media Lab, you were the best case scenario for anyone working to promote this place. You have spoken and written on The Lab as your absolute dream. When you were in Africa, Australia or Yale, how did you come to see this place as the best place in the world to express the creative and civic dreams you had?
Mboya: That’s a good question – what drew me here? The Media Lab is amazing. I read Whiplash, Joi Ito’s book on the nine principles of the Media Lab, and it really touched me. It was a place for the marginalized. It was a place for people who are curious and just want to explore, experience and mix different areas, which is exactly what I did before.
Since high school, I was very narrow in my concentration; at Yale, I did Econ and filmed, so that had a bit more of an edge. After I graduated, I insisted on not taking a more conventional route that a lot of Yale students take, so [I] returned to Kenya and worked on many different projects, got into adventure sports, turned more to travel.
Epstein: Your website is full of pictures of you turning around, skydiving, gymnastics – things that require both strength and courage.
Mboya: I had always been an athlete, I loved the outdoors.
I remember being in Vietnam; I had never done a backflip. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to learn how to do this. But it’s really scary to jump back; the fear. Is, you can’t see where you’re going. I remember thinking to myself, “Okay, jump over the fear. Just turn it off and do it. Your body will follow. I did it and I was like, “Oh, that was easy.” It’s not complicated. Most people could do it if they just said, “Okay, I’m going to jump. “
It really marked me. A lot of decisions that I have [since] fact, which I’m afraid of, I think, “Okay, jump, and your body will follow.” The Media Lab was like that too.
I really wanted to go, I just thought there was no room for me. It was like, I’m not tech savvy enough, I’m not junk enough. The app was ‘just jump’ you never know what’s going to happen.
Epstein: When you applied, you wrote about what elite school applicants often call ‘impostor syndrome’. This is where I want to be, but will they want me?