How Grad Student Arwa Mboya Helped Bring Down The Epstein Coverup At The MIT Media Lab

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Written by Dana Sanchez

The head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Media Lab resigned on Saturday and quit the boards of several organizations after reports emerged that the lab had accepted and covered up donations from billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Media Lab director Joi Ito and his colleagues covered up the financier’s donations and affiliation with the program, the New Yorker reported the day before Ito resigned.

MIT Media Lab
Arwa Michelle Mboya, a second-year graduate student at the MIT Media Lab. Photo: MIT Media Lab

Years after Epstein’s predatory behavior with underage girls became public, meetings with him continued showing up on Ito’s public calendar, Quartz reported: “Epstein’s name was marked only as ‘JE,’ although full names were used for everyone else. And people at the Media Lab reportedly referred to the donor internally as ‘he who shall not be named.'”

Arwa Mboya, 25, a second-year grad student at the Media Lab, wrote a guest column in MIT’s student newspaper, The Tech, on Aug. 29, calling for Ito to resign.

“I am calling for the immediate resignation of MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito because of his deep connections with Epstein, his lack of leadership explaining his involvement, and the lack of transparency about the extent of his interactions with Epstein,” Mboya wrote. “Not only is this issue personal to me, but it is personal to women everywhere.”

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Ito confirmed his resignation to the Washington Post and apologized to members of the MIT Media Lab, a research lab that grew out of the university’s School of Architecture. The lab’s research draws from technology, media, science, art, and design, encouraging “the unconventional mixing and matching of seemingly disparate research areas.”

“I want to apologize again for my errors in judgment,” Ito wrote in an email provided to The Washington Post by a lab grad student. “I have spent the last days and weeks listening to all of you and I want to thank you (for) allowing me (to) begin to try to make amends. After giving the matter a great deal of thought, I have chosen to resign as Director of the Media Lab and as a Professor and employee of the Institute, effective immediately.”

Ito’s resignation was necessary for the greater good, Mboya suggested. “This is not an MIT issue, and this is not a Joi Ito issue.  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.”

After Ito resigned, Mboyo told The Washington Post, “I feel vindicated, like I’m not crazy.” Ito is to blame for his actions, but others are to blame for allowing his actions to continue, she wrote in the guest column.

The MIT Media Lab has an annual operating budget of $80 million. It amassed more than $7 million in funding thanks to the Epstein’s efforts, Quartz reported. MIT disqualified Epstein as a donor after he pled guilty in 2008 to pedophile and sex trafficking charges. However, Ito at the MIT Lab continued accepting his donations, telling MIT employees at the lab to record them as “anonymous.”

Epstein claimed to have helped secure MIT a $2 million donation from Bill Gates, among others, according to Media Lab emails obtained by Ronan Farrow at the New Yorker. For example, an email from a “Jeffrey E” to Ito in 2014 said that “Gates would like a write up on our one science program for tues next week.” The Gates foundation denied that Epstein was behind any of the Microsoft founder’s contributions, Washington Post reported.

Ito has resigned from the board of trustees of the Knight Foundation, the New York Times Co. board of directors and the MacArthur Foundation.

“We have a bad history of forgiving talented men who wield power,” Mboyo wrote. “If there is no accountability for the people who bolster men like Epstein, sexual violence against powerless people will continue.”

Mboyo is from Kenya. “I’m a young black woman (running the risk of being called ‘angry’ or ‘crazy’ for speaking up),” she wrote. “On the ladder of power, I am on a very low rung. That said, I am educated, I am smart, and I have a voice … I at least have the power to advocate for the girls and women who couldn’t speak out when they were raped and abused. I have the power to say no to a director who chose not only to ignore the accusations but to lie about his involvement as well. I can say that I am part of the #MeTooSTEM movement and will not be silent.”