About the Digital Equity Lab
In 2017, Maya Wiley founded the Digital Equity Laboratory (DEL), an applied research workshop at the New School focused on digital equity issues in New York City. New School students were able to work with groups including Silicon Harlem, the Red Hook Initiative, and the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer, to understand and iterate solutions around persistent, structural digital inequities, working alongside community advocates, practitioners, and policymakers.
Building on the success of the workshop in 2018 Greta Byrum joined Maya Wiley to launch the Laboratory as a research hub. DEL’s mission was to uncover and address structural inequities that persist and evolve as technology transforms our cultural, social, and political systems. From January 2018-December 2019, the Lab engaged in projects designed to build digital equity and justice through applied research, policy strategy, and convening power. The work of the DEL was grounded by working principles - technology for equity; digital access, health and safety; collective agency and self determination; and building for the future. You can read more about these principles below.
DEL researched digital equity issues including ISP consumer privacy protection behaviors and community-led broadband infrastructure initiatives, provided technical support and hands-on curricula and tools, and conducted applied research to inform policy strategy at every level of government for the purpose of advancing digital equity. We brought together practitioners, scholars, organizers, and policymakers to create cross-sector leadership on key digital equity issues and created career and practical opportunity ladders for students, graduates, companies, and communities interested in exploring and building equitable technology ecosystems. Check out the “Work” section of our page for more.
As our work progressed, it became clearer than ever how much issues of digital equity were interwoven with other dynamics of structural and historical inequity. Digital equity is a useful lens to understand critical issues in race, governance, economic opportunity, and public health, and must be applied in all of these contexts.
In 2020, Byrum and Wiley decided to disband the Digital Equity Laboratory in order to expand our work more flexibly in partnership and coalition with other parts of the New School as well as external partners. While DEL is no longer working as a centralized university laboratory, some of our projects are ongoing, including the “People’s Internet,” an exploration of community wireless designed to build healthier communities, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The People’s Internet is a collaboration among the Allied Media Projects’ Community Tech NY (CTNY) project, the Hudson Valley’s Radio Kingston, and the Southern Connected Communities Project and the Clearfork Community Institute in rural Tennessee. The People’s Internet is led by PI Greta Byrum with New School Anthropology professor Shannon Mattern and New School Media Studies Associate Ever Bussey. Greta Byrum and CTNY are also working with THE POINT CDC in the South Bronx to expand Free Hunts Point WiFi to meet demand support mutual aid efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Thank You to Our Funders:
As we move to officially sunset the Digital Equity Laboratory as a university laboratory, we want to take this opportunity to thank our funders. Your support has allowed us to produce work and build relationships that will have a long-lasting impact within the digital rights and digital equity ecosystem in New York City and beyond. To the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the New York Community Trust Census Equity Fund, the Mayor's Office of the CTO, the Open Society Foundations, the Mozilla Foundation, and The Ford Foundation -- thank you for the trust you have placed in us to make a difference and build a foundation of research on Digital Equity that we hope will serve the work of scholars, practitioners, advocates, and policymakers seeking to create a more just and equitable digital future.
Greta Byrum leads the New School's Digital Equity work and is Co-Director of the Community Tech NY (CTNY) project, leading equitable community wireless projects with The New School and local partners. Greta reimagines the way we design, build, control, and govern communications systems. She builds digital justice through applied research, community broadband projects, and policy strategy. As co-director of the Digital Equity Laboratory along with Maya Wiley from 2018 until early 2020, she led initiatives preparing libraries and CBOs for the first digital census; building the equity component of NYC's groundbreaking 2020 Internet Master Plan; and reporting on the privacy practices of NYC's internet services providers.
With CTNY, Greta is now leading equitable community internet projects in rural Tennessee, the Hudson Valley, the South Bronx, and Los Angeles. Previously, she founded and led the Resilient Communities program at New America, where she developed and led Resilient Networks NYC, an initiative bringing training, tools, and equipment for storm-hardened mesh WiFi to five neighborhoods in NYC's flood plains. Greta is a poet and a low-power FM microbroadcaster. She serves on the board of the Metropolitan New York Library Council, and was a 2017 Harvard Loeb Fellow.
Maya Wiley is a nationally renowned expert on racial justice and equity. Prior to her work at The New School, Maya served as Counsel to the Mayor of the City of New York from 2014-2016, where she led efforts to expand affordable broadband access and advance human rights and gender equity. In this work, she supported efforts to scale up community-based models of resilient digital infrastructure that had proved essential during Hurricane Sandy. She has also been an advisor to the City of Detroit in the development of a digital equity strategy. Ms. Wiley has litigated, lobbied the U.S. Congress, and developed programs to transform structural racism in the United States and South Africa.
Maya is also the founder of the Center for Social Inclusion, and has worked for the Open Society Foundation in the U.S. and in South Africa, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. City and State Magazine named Ms. Wiley one of the 100 most powerful people in New York City in 2014 and in 2015. In 2011, Wiley was named one of "20 Leading Black Women Social Activists Advocating Change.” She appears frequently as a Legal Analyst on MSNBC.
Technology for Equity
Digital Equity means we achieve inclusive and healthy social, economic, educational and civic outcomes for people of all races, incomes, genders and gender identities, and backgrounds. Digital Equity treats technology as a tool and not a determination, solution, or an end in itself. Digital Equity takes a structural, transdisciplinary, and intersectional approach.
Digital Access, Health, and Safety
Technologies should be accessible and affordable. Digital Equity should protect personal and private data, and protect against wrongful group-based surveillance based on demographics. Everyone should be able to afford technology access, and should have resources and support to protect their digital privacy. Using technology should not reinforce or exacerbate harms and risks for vulnerable groups. All people should feel welcome to participate in digital life, express themselves, and explore ideas online without fear of violence, harassment, surveillance, or discrimination.
Collective Agency and Self-Determination
Digital Equity aims to build a collective culture of digital consent and mutual accountability shaped by and for the benefit of the most vulnerable among us. Everybody should have agency to make decisions about the technologies that shape their lives, regardless of their level of digital skills or knowledge. Digital participants should have self-determination over their data bodies: everyone has the right to know and to determine what information they generate by using technology - what data is collected, how it is shared and used, and how to opt-out of unsafe or exploitative data extraction and targeting.
Building for the Future
Instead of reacting to challenges, harms, and risks as they arise, we should envision systems and standards that will build digital equity as technologies evolve. Accountable and transparent digital systems, standards, and common understandings can increase both access and safety before problems arise. Our technological systems should reflect the best society we can collectively imagine, now and in the future.