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Massachusetts as a failed state, Boston as a failed city?
“Somebody said at the protest, ‘Money has memory.’ And, we have to think about where our money comes from, because money is not given to MIT with no strings attached, right?"
We can’t just hold our noses and look away from academia’s dirty money
The 2018 Disobedience Award ceremony was a full MIT Media Lab spectacle. Carefully produced, lavishly catered, part of the lab itself turned into a dance club for a late-night party, this was the lab’s way of using all its prestige and influence to celebrate “individuals and groups who engage in responsible, ethical disobedience aimed at challenging norms, rules, or laws that sustain society’s injustices.” Winners of the 2018 awards were Tarana Burke, BethAnn McLaughlin, and Sherry Marts, for their work in the #MeToo movement. McLaughlin is credited with the creation of #MeTooSTEM, a fight to hold accountable scientists and academics guilty of sexual assault or harrassment.
After a keynote by Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Lab’s Center for Civic Media, the presentation was made by the Media Lab’s director, Joi Ito, and LinkedIn billionaire Reid Hoffman, the award’s funder. Nine months later, Ito had been revealed as having a close business relationship with confessed sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, Hoffman as having arranged at least one dinner for him. But it was Zuckerman, who declined to meet with Epstein and warned Ito about him, who had resigned, saying it was impossible to continue social justice work at the Media Lab. Just weeks after Ito’s revelation, days after he asked permission of Lab staff to make amends, Ito abruptly resigned from the Lab, from MIT, from his Harvard affiliation and from many corporate and foundations on which he served.
The stench of Epstein money is embedded in parts of Cambridge’s academic circles in a way that no single resignation cures. Answering the question of who took Epstein money is ongoing work. Journalists, investigators, and outraged individuals are combing the archives of scientific journals to find instances where Epstein’s support was acknowledged. Others are plunging into the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to find pictures of gatherings that have been removed from the web. Documents from previous legal cases continue to be unsealed. The names that have surfaced are a mix of the famous and the not so famous. George Church. Marvin Minsky. Seth Lloyd. Martin Nowak, who seems to have had a long relationship with Epstein and allowed Epstein to use his 1 Brattle Street office for gatherings of scientists. One Nowak invitee, Broad Institute head Eric Lander, reports that he was invited to lunch with Nowak without knowing who else would attend. Epstein was there, but, after Lander discovered who Epstein was, he declined further invitations and had no other contact.
Lander’s behavior seems a plausible, common-sense reaction to an attempt to recruit him into Epstein’s circle. Ito’s stands in stark contrast. Initially, he offered a description of his Epstein connections that minimized his involvement. But offering that description in the context of making amends appears to have too much for at least one person who knew the truth. Signe Swenson, a former Media Lab fundraiser, who had quit in 2016 after her warnings about Epstein went unheeded, had receipts, and through Ronan Farrow, provided them to the world. Ito’s office worked so hard at concealing Epstein’s name, Farrow reports, that he was called “Voldemort”, or “he who must not be named.” He described Epstein’s 2015 visit to the Lab and the surreal scene when Lab staff approached two of Epstein’s ever present, young, beautiful, female assistants to make sure that they weren’t there under duress. Pause a moment and consider the monstrous arrogance that brings a convicted sexual predator to a college campus, an action that compelled staff to inquire whether two visitors were unwilling sex slaves.
But even that doesn’t seem to be the end of it. Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessig, a long time Ito colleague and friend, published a statement of continued support of Ito. The decision to accept Epstein money, Lessig said, was carefully considered, including a discussion with him. He explained Epstein’s anonymity not as a device to protect Ito and MIT but to keep Epstein from using the donations to improve his image. Their mistake, Lessig says, was not to consider what would happen should the secret get out. Published on a Sunday, reading Lessig’s piece and condemning its obtuseness seems to be the way that academic Twitter spent the day.
One reason it’s proving so difficult to document Epstein’s connections, Buzzfeed reports, is that Epstein funneled much of his philanthropy through private equity CEO Hugo Black and literary agent John Brockman and Brockman’s Edge Foundation. Brockman is literary agent to the scientific stars and is the man to whom Epstein trusted the organization of various events to bring him together with scientists. But this mix of rape culture and scientific celebrity had its own impact. Media Lab scientist Dr. Kate Darling, herself a Brockman client, reports going to a recent invitation-only Brockman event and finding herself in a room of mostly men. That was a feature of the Brockman/Epstein axis from its start: the exclusion of women. Brockman, for example, used Epstein’s private jet to fly East Coast scientists, all white men, to the first Ted Talk. As this scientist-celebrity culture blossomed, its gatekeepers excluded women except as sex or breeding objects. It wasn’t that there weren’t any female scientists deserving of the attention Brockman brought to his male clients, it’s that Epstein seemed more interested in women scientists as potential breeding partners in his plan to seed the world with his DNA. Many of the male scientists in this circle went on to be rich and famous through opportunities Brockman and Epstein opened for them, opportunities from which women were systematically excluded. That damage is something we’ve barely begun to confront. Darling has said that she will leave the Brockman Agency when her contractual commitments are complete, but will remain at the Media Lab, saying she believed that Ito is uniquely capable of making the deep structural changes to a system that his own behavior exemplified. In fairness to Darling, Ito, who turns out to have been at the 1999 “Billionaire’s Dinner” which launched this scientific/cultural monoculture, seems to have fooled many people.
Though Ito has been surgically removed from MIT, this doesn’t end the questions. How did someone bring a convicted predatory sex trafficker to campus without thinking of student safety or notification requirements of the Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act? How was Ito able to commingle fundraising for his private investment business with fundraising for MIT? There’s the story of Cesar Hidalgo who, until his recent resignation, was the only Hispanic faculty member in Media Lab history. In a long Twitter thread, he describes an environment of marginalization and humiliation and where, as he dryly notes, a convicted sex trafficker had more access to his Lab’s Director than he did. And, lastly, what of Harvard? MIT has apologized and announced an independent investigation of its Epstein involvement. Harvard, despite a longer and deeper involvement than MIT, has remained silent.
As for MIT, It does not diminish the severity of Ito’s actions nor does it downplay the pain of Epstein’s victims to note that this episode should share the spotlight with two other funding scandals. MIT used the occasion of the passing of alum and longtime generous donor David Koch to whitewash his role in climate change denial and call him a model philanthropist. And the Intercept revealed that Steven Schwarzman, for whom MIT’s new jewel—the Schwarzman College of Computing—is named, is a
A response to the Boston Herald
In response to the Boston Herald’s overtly racist and sexist article on Masshousing’s dining expenses and the appointment of its executive director’s new role on the MBTA Fiscal Control Board, I felt compelled to express my disappointment in the tired narrative that follows women of color in leadership roles and in the workplace.
Chrystal Kornegay made headlines when she was named the executive director of MassHousing in February 2018, an independent, quasi-public agency charged with providing financing for affordable housing in Massachusetts. MassHousing raises capital by selling bonds and lends the proceeds to low- and moderate-income homebuyers and homeowners, and to developers who build or preserve affordable and/or mixed-income rental housing. Kornegay became the first black woman to lead the agency.
Although Kornegay is arguably over-qualified for the role she currently holds at MassHousing, having held several positions in public service and the community development sector from project manager to executive director to the top job in the housing world as the head of the Department of Housing and Community Development for the Commonwealth, she is still being subjected to the taunts of the old-school thinking that has led Boston to a massive leadership gap for professionals of color that include men and women.
The Boston Globe’s Spotlight series made a big splash last year when it referenced that power was still held in the hands of few white male executives in the city, and yet how can we be surprised when news headlines such as the one the Boston Herald promoted on January 29 discrediting Kornegay’s appointment to the MBTA fiscal control board and calling routine company outings “outlandish”, preys right into the hands of sexist and racist attitudes about the leadership potential of women of color.
The focus on the agency’s expenditures has a suspicious urgency as it comes one day after Kornegay was appointed by Gov. Baker on two of the Commonwealth’s transit boards. The leadership of women of color is often viewed under a critical magnifier as every move is challenged and questioned by those uncomfortable with the reality of a growing, diverse workforce and the rise of women of color in leadership roles.
Kornegay joins a long list of women who have been subjected to extraordinary scrutiny in comparison to their white colleagues. During Stacey Abrams’ historic campaign for governor of Georgia, the media became obsessed with her personal debt and finances, painting a picture of the candidate as one who would be unable to handle the pressures of a high public office. The true story hidden behind the scandalous headlines was Abrams’ commitment to her family’s health as she was a primary caretaker for her niece and later for her parents as they dealt with sudden illnesses that crippled their family’s finances. None of this made the news. The only thing that stuck was a black woman in debt running for high office.
Fast forward to Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’ historic win as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress and the conservative media’s attack on her finances as the millennial leader confessed to being unable to pay for housing in Washington D.C until her new job began. The stories that poured out from this relatable dilemma (D.C has one of the highest costs of living in the nation) were focused on Cortez’ fashion and less on the real matters at hand: rent is too damn high!
But women of color in public service and elected office aren’t the only ones who receive this type of crippling scrutiny. Women of color in the workplace are often overlooked for promotions, seen as “less likable” even as their white counterparts participate in similar behaviors. The emotional tax that professionals of color face, especially women, is very high. Not only do we need to seem less threatening to avoid the never-ending “Angry Black Woman” stereotype but we must also work for less pay as the persistent wage gap affects black and Latinx women more than any other minority group.
The term “emotional tax”—discussed in a study conducted by Catalyst—is in reference to the heightened experience of being different from peers at work because of your gender and/or race/ethnicity and the associated detrimental effects on health, well-being, and the ability to thrive at work. For women of color, that tax is two-fold. It comes from often being the only person of color in the room and often also the only woman.
Women of color have a “double hurdle” of not being too aggressive and proving, sometimes repeatedly, that we are intelligent enough to warrant an audience for our ideas. While women, white in particular, face what is commonly referred to as the “glass ceiling”—women of color face a “concrete ceiling” one much more complex to penetrate especially for black and Latinx women who historically rank as the lowest paid workers in America.
Still, we persist. Nearly 90 percent of women of color want to be influential leaders—demonstrating the benefit to companies of attracting and retaining top talent from all backgrounds. Research shows that teams with diverse perspectives
Harvard University is one of the largest employers
in Massachusetts, with over 18,000 employees. Thousands of Harvard’s workers are “contingent” and don’t have benefits such as health insurance or paid time off.
The necessity of an international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons
Recent comments by the leaders of the United States and North Korea have reignited public concern about the danger of nuclear war. The Nobel Peace Prize was given this past year to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
At the dawn of the nuclear age Albert Einstein warned, “The splitting of the atom has changed everything in the world except mankind’s mind, and so we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” What did Einstein mean? And what are the logical implications of Einstein’s insight? What changes must occur in our minds to avoid “unparalleled catastrophe”?
There are at least three ways that the existence of nuclear weapons compels us to change our thinking—the way we think about self and other, the way we think about war and peace, and the way we think about democracy.
=&0=&: Many think that our military protects us and only endangers others. But with nuclear weapons this idea doesn’t hold. A malfunction on Russian radar could be catastrophic for the United States if it were to mistakenly register a US nuclear attack. We are left with the hope that there will be no problems with Russian radar. Similarly everyone must hope that there are no problems with our radar systems. The vast destructive power of nuclear weapons has entangled us with our “enemies” such that the less secure they are, the less secure we are. Furthermore, the destructive power of nuclear weapons means that using a fraction of the nuclear bombs in the United States arsenal would kill and injure immeasurable numbers of people, seriously damage the environment, and disrupt agriculture on a worldwide scale. Nuclear weapons have turned the moral imperative “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” into a practical necessity, because what we do unto others will be done to us. Can we understand that only by seeing to the other’s security will we be truly secure?
=&1=&: People commonly think of war and peace as opposite states of being. Peace ends and wars begin when the weapons start going off. But with nuclear weapons such thinking is not permissible, because nuclear war doesn’t begin when the weapons go off. Nuclear war ends when the weapons go off. If this is how nuclear war ends, how does nuclear war begin? It begins by building nuclear weapons, testing them, amassing them, and preparing to use them. Any talk today of preventing a nuclear war misses the point that we are actually in a nuclear war right now. The question is not how can we prevent a nuclear war, but how will the nuclear war end? Will it end with the weapons abolishing mankind, or will mankind end this war by abolishing nuclear weapons? Just as war is a process, so is peace. Peace is a process of educating people about nuclear war, helping them organize against this war. Peace is a process of building institutions that can help people negotiate solutions to differences and conflicts without resorting to war.
=&2=&: Could there be any condition more at odds with democracy than a situation in which a few individuals can make a decision that could destroy all of mankind? The most basic democratic right, the right to live, requires the abolition of nuclear weapons. Just as war and peace are processes, so is democracy. We must think of it as “the process of democratization,” a process that depends on large numbers of people informing themselves on issues and organizing to see that their views are truly represented. Ordinary people can and must seize the democratic right to live by joining together in a worldwide peace movement. Through this peace movement we can create the political will and power to compel the nuclear powers to negotiate a treaty monitored by the United Nations, which will abolish all nuclear weapons and safeguard the true security of all peoples. Everyone has a role in this process.
At present a call is is serving as a rallying cry for a new movement in the United States. It has been endorsed by a number of national as well as local religious, peace, and social justice organizations such as United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, Franciscans for Justice, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Union of Concerned Scientists,