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Common Text Study Guide

Book Cover Image from What the Eyes Don't See featuring a picture of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha in a lab coat.

Each year Loyola chooses a Common Text for all first-year students to read before the Fall semester begins. The book chosen for your incoming class, by a committee of current Loyola students, faculty, and staff, is What the Eyes Don’t See by Mona Hanna-Attisha. Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s book details her fight to save children and expose the Flint Water Crisis. 

From the Discussion Guide provided by Penguin Random House Education: 

Flint was already a troubled city in 2014 when the state of Michigan—in the name of austerity—shifted the source of its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Soon after, citizens began complaining about the water that flowed from their taps—but officials rebuffed them, insisting that the water was fine. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at the city’s public hospital, took state officials at their word and encouraged the parents and children in her care to continue drinking the water—after all, it was American tap water, blessed with the state’s seal of approval. But a conversation at a cookout with an old friend, leaked documents from a rogue environmental inspector, and the activism of a concerned mother raised red flags about lead—a neurotoxin whose irreversible effects fall most heavily on children. Even as circumstantial evidence mounted and protests grew, Dr. Mona knew that the only thing that could stop the lead poisoning was undeniable proof—and that to get it, she’d have to enter the fight of her life. What the Eyes Don’t See is a riveting, beautifully rendered account of a shameful disaster that became a tale of hope, the story of a city on the ropes that came together to fight for justice, self-determination, and the right to build a better world for their—and all of our—children.

During Fall Welcome Weekend, the Class of 2027 will convene on campus, and you will discuss the Common Text with your academic advisor, who is also one of your professors, and your fellow students in your Messina group. It is important that you read the text with care and come prepared to discuss the ideas presented in this study guide. The Common Text is intended for reading by everyone in your class and may be included in Messina course discussions, tests, or assignments during Fall and/or Spring semester. Messina will also sponsor events throughout the year to address themes raised in the text.  

The Loyola University Strategic Plan describes Ignatian citizens as people who "think of themselves as part of something larger, as responsible for the betterment of our shared world…. who think and act for the rights of others, especially the disadvantaged and the oppressed.” As people living and learning in Baltimore and the United States in 2023, we are training ourselves to be open to learning more about how racial and economic disparities result in a profoundly different lived experience for neighbors and classmates, in communities like ours and across the United States. 

Before you read: 

1. What do you know about the Flint Water Crisis, as it is called? What sources do you get your information from?  

2. What do you believe you can you do as an individual to make the world a better and safer place? 

3. What are some struggles or concerns that exist in your community that are specific to where you live?

While you read: 

1. How does systemic racism such as in employment policies, housing segregation, and blockbusting disproportionately affect black families? 

2. Why is science and scientific information sometimes difficult for those who are not scientists to understand and to accept? 

3. How does the media impact our understanding of our community? How does the media impact our understanding of what is safe or unsafe?

4. What is a time when you learned, either in class or through the news, that something you believed about health and/or healthy practices was not correct or was no longer correct as a result of new research?

5. What connection do government policies and business practices have to the story told in What the Eyes Don’t See

After you read: 

1. On page 72 of the book, Dr. Hanna-Attisha writes, “we step over complex systems every day, walking through history and pretending darkness isn’t there.” What does that mean to you and where have you seen something similar happen? 

2. What are the connections between Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s stories of Iraq and those of the Flint water crisis? What is the purpose of family stories in the narrative? 

3. How were scientists and whistle-blowers like Marc Edwards, Miguel Del Toral, and Dr. Hanna-Attisha treated after making their research public? What road blocks did the government entities such as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the MDEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality), and the state and county health departments use to prevent scientists from continuing their work and sharing their findings? Can you think of other examples when scientific research has been dismissed?

4. How might the Flint water crisis have played out differently if Dr. Hanna-Attisha had received positive responses to her requests for blood lead level (BLL) data? What would have been different about the how events played out if public health and scientific data were publicly available and accessible? How has this book expanded your interest in your own community’s safety and in understanding scientific research better?

5. What responsibility do we have to each other in a community? How do we balance the concerns of our whole community with our own individual needs and concerns? 

6. Learn about What the Eyes Don't See through the words of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PasD9CZJZPM.

Engage Further:

1. Baltimore, like many older cities, also has high concern about lead poisoning. Baltimore’s history includes has controversial research conducted through Johns Hopkins Kennedy Krieger Institute that knowingly allowed children to be exposed to lead. Read more at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3477943/.

2. Flint is still contending with their water crisis in ways both big and small. Read more about the status of recovery as recently as January, 2023 in this article prepared by Wayne State University in the Detroit area: https://today.wayne.edu/news/2023/01/10/health-care-concerns-still-follow-flint-water-crisis-50272

3. Fallout from the Washington DC lead crisis continues to the current day. Start with this National Public Radio article about demands to require replacing pipes throughout the city: https://www.npr.org/local/305/2022/09/30/1126241061/d-c-has-a-lead-pipe-problem-a-new-report-recommends-their-removal-be-mandated#:~:text=A%20new%20report%20recommends%20their%20removal%20be%20mandated.,-September%2030%2C%202022&text=D.C.%20officials%20have%20been%20struggling,contaminated%20water%20was%20uncovered%20here.

4. Public health is a field of science that has been instrumental in prolonging human life, helping to identify the cause of diseases that have environmental and social origins, complications, and solutions, and developing responses to problems that have plagued humans and their communities for thousands of years. This well-researched and carefully cited Wikipedia entry on public health explains more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_health
5. In 2019, journalism students at the University of Maryland, investigated the connection between race-based housing segregation and discrimination in Baltimore, and distinct health differences by neighborhood, in a project called “Code Red: Baltimore’s Climate Divide.” Read their reporting here: https://cnsmaryland.org/interactives/summer-2019/code-red/index.html
 

Questions?

Contact the Messina Office at 410-617-2669, messina@loyola.edu, or browse the website for a list of academic and support services available to Loyola students, including helping you make the transition to campus and college life.

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