There have been very few times that I can name that have dramatically affected the trajectory of my life. Events that I turn over and over again in my head to try to make sense of. Events that I can knowingly point to and say “this is where a new Lilly began”
Going to Mathpath / Mathcamp and discovering that communities of self-motivated and (com)passionate people can exist and thrive. Leaving those summer camps to understand that these communities are fragile and take determined, dedicated work to create and maintain. I learned that the goal should not be to constantly yearn for those summer camps, but to make the world around me more of what I want to see.
A conversation with my father, where I learned that some debts can never be repaid, no matter how hard we try to ignore, overpay, or substitute for them.
My sophomore year of college, where I read my friend’s suicide note on Facebook, where there were eight suicides at MIT, where I had a platonic breakup with a friend who I was afraid was going to be the ninth. I learned how death ripples through a community. I learned what it feels like to break. I learned how to care less about others, so i can put my head down and survive.
Winning Jeopardy, where I got a taste of fame, renown, popularity — and how little those concepts actually mean if I don’t gain those on my own terms and with my own voice. How easily my name, my face, my narrative, my identity can be taken from me and used to serve other purposes.
A conversation with my housemate, where I learned that the times when you don’t understand what a person is going through is the time that you should listen the hardest, not claim that what they’re going through is not real.
The ongoing MIT-Epstein scandal, where I learned….?
It was important for me to end “An Oral History” on some note, any note — to not let the story just bleed through continuously and give myself some closure in reflection. But life goes on.
Umberto Eco warns about the infinity of lists, but I can’t help myself.
Since I’ve written that piece, I’ve
- met with a friend on the MIT Corporation, trying to find compromise between our views
- screamed for three hours straight at the MIT Corporation as they dedicated the Hockfield Court
- gone on a fellowship retreat and ranted in a jacuzzi in the woods about the situation
- had dinner with my advisor and the other women in the lab
- met with President Reif as a result of the sit-in and heard his defense, as well as his refusal to act on any of our demands
- submitted another robotics paper via all-nighter
- given a presentation about my robotics research to a funding agency
- prepared rebuttals and a poster for the AI ethics paper via all-nighter
- gone to a fellowship conference and rant-screamed in Central Park for 15 minutes after someone joked that we passed by Epstein’s mansion
- gone to a computer science and law conference and won Best Paper for the work I did in Joi Ito’s class
- picketed Seth Lloyd’s class and heard his personal defense, as well as discussed with his current students about the situation
Since I’ve written that piece, I’ve had countless numbers of people tell me
- that I’m brave, how they wish they had my courage, to keep fighting the good fight
- that I’m stifling productive dialogue through angry protest
- that their labmates say sexist things when women aren’t around
- that they thought sexist things that happened to me and others were “not that bad”, “hilarious”, “a joke”, “amusing” until we pointed out how deeply it affected us
- that I care too much about the “Media Lab” scandal
- at a robotics conference, trying to hedge my rants/screams about the scandal and be focused on the presented papers
- racked with insomnia and guilt, unable to focus on any of the presented papers
- behind on thank you letters
- over a month late on sending President Reif an email about my fellowship funding situation so that he can forward it to the appropriate people
- over four months late to the students I promised to mentor through graduate school admissions
- over six months late on several interview requests about my recycling robot
- going through a platonic breakup based on how I characterized someone in the oral history
- still demanding accountability from MIT and a seat at the table as MIT News quietly whitewashes over our efforts
- actively trying to hold another major academic institution accountable for intentionally deceiving the public
- wincing every time a speaker says they have to present this work on behalf of their Chinese colleagues because of visa issues
Me: “Why am I still so tired? It’s been a month since the Stallman email situation”
K: “It’s because you’ve realized that this is a fight you’ve already been fighting. And that you’ll keep fighting for the rest of your life.”
D: “Take care of yourself. You don’t want to let those bastards win. It’s a common tactic for them to try to knock you out on the first punch, so you’re too tired to keep on swinging. But when they start marshalling all of their forces against you, that’s when you know that you’ve hit them right in the seat of their power”
J: “after writing those two sentences, i’ve spent about the past twenty minutes staring at this draft trying to figure out how to write something tacitly justifying my lack of action. i can’t.”
I’m on nearly the complete opposite side of the globe from home, living in a simulacrum of opulence. Gold and rainbow LEDs tinge everything outside, while inside is lined with jarring luxury stores from every angle. “This could be yours“, the facade whispers, “if you just go for the money and ask no questions“.
I’m not sure what I’m learning.