The Flint Water Crisis and Beyond
How can Quinnipiac become more environmentally aware?
This year, the Albert Schweitzer Institute (ASI) sponsored two students to attend. ASI frequently works with students and the community to enrich understanding of global issues, such as the environment and human rights. Sabrina Escobar, a sophomore biology major interested in an environmental science minor, and myself, a sophomore English and environmental studies double major attended the SEJ Conference. As students, we went into the conference wondering what our own university could do to (1) raise awareness about environmental issues on our campus and (2) make an impact on communities that are in need of assistance.
The workshops and panels were geared toward water and climate issues, as well as industrial impact in Detroit and pipeline dangers throughout the country. However, the most prominent topic of the conference was Flint.
Flint has a very rich, long history. It was a major area for lumbering in the 1800s. In 1908, General Motors (GM) was founded within the city; it quickly became a leading car manufacturing region, which earned its nickname “Vehicle City.” However, financial insecurity has always loomed, causing an economic depression after GM’s downsize and two states of emergency since 2002.
Most recently, the city is known for its water crisis. The crisis began in 2014 after a switch of water sources. The change was from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River, which would save $5 million over the course of two years. The result: lead from pipes leeched and contaminated the water. And, four years later, this issue remains ongoing.
The lead contamination has affected the physical and mental health of the community. Thousands of residents have experienced rashes and hair loss as well as learning disabilities in young children. Various forms of cancers – such as brain, lung and throat – have also been common. There have been almost 100 cases of Legionnaires’ disease reported by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in the city and the surrounding area, some resulting in death.
Despite the pain and suffering these people are going through, they have an inspiring amount of strength and resilience. There have been a seemingly endless stream of organizations and movements created by locals. They were created to combat poverty, sickness and struggles within the community. Some examples include Flint Democracy Defense League and the Genesee County Hispanic Latino Collaborative, that provide support and resources for residents in need.
It is no surprise to learn that the city’s motto is “strong and proud.”
At Quinnipiac, it is easy to feel disconnected from a city that is nearly 700 miles away. Aside from the distance, the student body is much more fortunate than Flint residents. Many students are privileged (in terms of race, socioeconomic status, education, region, etc.) and fail to realize that their life is a luxury compared to that of others.
As a whole, Quinnipiac students can benefit from learning more about environmental problems that connect to social justice issues.
With groups such as Students for Environmental Action (SEA) making a comeback on campus, and an increased interest in studying environmental studies and science in the College of Arts and Sciences, it is clear that there is a percentage of Quinnipiac students who are trying to learn more about the environment. We can harness this energy in positive ways to make a real impact; this might mean raising money for local organizations with an environmental or justice related mission, or participating in opportunities through our Office of Community Service.
Flint is one example of a struggling low-income city with a large percentage of residents that are people of color.
But, there are others – such as New Haven and Hamden – that have similar struggles. What the Quinnipiac community, can do is become more engaged and active in our community roles.
Our students are capable of becoming more aware of environmental problems within our country and around the globe. We can do better, and we should.
As Tiara Darisaw, 13-year-old activist and founder of “Children for Flint” said to conference attendees,“If you care about something, speak up about it – and you can tell anybody how you feel. Don’t forget that.”