Into and Beyond the "Crisis" of Flint's Water 5 Essays by Northwestern University Students

At the start of 2016, people across the United States knew that the heavy metal lead had entered the water supply of Flint, MI due to tragic economic decisions by local governance. Lesser known are the historical conditions and social circumstances that continue to shape water politics in Flint. This page assembles five essays written by Northwestern University juniors and seniors that situate the water crisis beyond the headlines to examine the conditions that make leaded water in Flint possible. These essays grew out of collaborative work in an upper division anthropology seminar at Northwestern on "Toxicity, Politics, and Slow Violence" taught by postdoctoral fellow, Stefanie Graeter. Investigating lead contamination in Flint provided a concurrent case study to apply concepts and discussion from the course. While students wrote their essays individually, they resulted from a collective process of research, analysis, and group critique.

To begin, students were tasked with writing an "implosion", a social science research method conceived of by anthropologist Joseph Dumit.

This method asks students to "implode" an object or situation by mapping out as many of the social and material relations in the world connected to its existence as possible. This method shows us what we know about an object or situation in the world, but even more critically, what we do not. Visualizing what we didn't know or understand about the lead situation in Flint revealed to us potentially intriguing avenues for further research.

Stage 1 of Implosion: Preliminary map of connections to "Lead in Flint's Tap Water", using the categories recommended by Dumit (link to his essay above). We filled in everything we knew about the situation from the internet, news, friends, hearsay, etc. This map helped us see what we did not understand yet about the situation.
Stage 2 of the Implosion: As a group we attempted to fill in the gaps in our knowledge through preliminary research. These connections and initial insights led to even more interesting and sometimes unanticipated connections. Aspects of the crisis remained difficult to understand but this allowed students to identify intriguing points of entry into Flint's water crisis for further research and their final essays.

Out of the many strains of potential inquiry, students chose five topics for further research and analysis: 1. the economic and natural history of the Flint region 2. emergency management governance and democracy in Flint 3. the lived experience of environmental racism through the water crisis 4. the rise of religious advocacy during the initial recovery period 5. a comparative analysis of public concern and lead legislation in Chicago's pipes and paint.

As a group, students decided on the audience and medium for their essays, eventually choosing Adobe's Spark because of its online public accessibility and its multi-media platform. Below, you will find a link to each of their multi-media essays followed by photos and bios of the students.

Into and Beyond the Crisis of Flint's Water

Chapter 1. Flint's Economic and Environmental History: How the Water Crisis Fits.

By Alex Kirschner

Chapter 2. Running Deeper than Water: Democracy in Flint, Michigan.

By Christina Cilento

Chapter 3. Why a Water Crisis Can Happen When All the Signs Were There.

By Kacie Trimble

Chapter 4. With the Collapse of Democracy, the Rise of Religion

By Anne Debertin

Chapter 5. Lead in Chicago: Pipes or Paint?

By Margaret Parker

About the Authors

Alex Kirschner

Alex is a junior studying Environmental Science with a minor in Political Science. His academic interests include environmental policy and justice and sustainable development. On campus he is one of the leaders of Northwestern's fossil fuel divestment campaign. He grew up in Newtown, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, and has spent the last two summers working on sustainability in Swarthmore, PA.

Christina Cilento

Christina Cilento is a junior at Northwestern University and Student Body President, where she studies Learning and Organizational Change, with minors in environmental policy and sustainability. Her main interests are in environmental justice and increasing educational opportunities to learn about climate change. This year she's also become more involved in exploring policy and the government's role in addressing climate and environmental issues, which informed her decision to focus her research on the political underpinnings of the Flint Water Crisis.

Kacie Trimble

Kacie Trimble is a graduating senior from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. As a storyteller and visual journalist, she is always looking to tell stories in compelling ways. She is a writer and designer who loves pop culture, writes about representation of women of color and cares maybe a little too much about the shape of the letter "O" and oxford commas.

Anne Debertin

Anne Debertin is a junior majoring in Anthropology and Neurobiology. She is interested in environmental issues and the differential ways they impact various populations, particularly how we indirectly affect human health through our impacts (both good and bad) on the environment. This fascination contributed to her passion for exploring the history of Flint.

Margaret Parker

Margaret Parker is a junior studying Social Policy, Environmental Policy and Culture, and International Studies at Northwestern University. On campus she is involved with Fossil Free NU, the Northwestern University Sailing Team, Project Wildcat, and Alpha Phi. She is a passionate environmentalist who loves spending time outdoors hiking, biking, and kayaking.

Created By
Stefanie Graeter
Created with images by otama - "Pipes" • Wystan - "Interior of No. 11 Factory, Buick Automobile Plant, Flint, Michigan." • ideowl - "Letter to Rick Snyder 2" • krunstrom - "Flint Dam" • Brian Smithson (Old Geordie) - "Water" • Editor B - "Lead-Based Paint"

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.