Common Read

UNIV 101L3 and 179L3 students will participate in our first ever common read program. Together, we'll be investigating "What the Eyes Don't See," the powerful story of how author and pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha helped expose the Flint water crisis to to her community, state, and country.

Dr. Hanna-Attisha has testified before the U.S. Congress on two different occasions and was awarded the Freedom of Expression Courage Award for her dedicated activism.

On October 3, 2019, Dr. Hanna-Attisha will visit EMU's campus for a reception, speech and book-signing in the Student Center Ballroom. Academic Support Programs is partnering with EMU academic and student affairs departments to bring this amazing opportunity to even more EMU students.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Atisha's Campus visit

Dr. Mona will be visiting campus on October 3.  Activities will start at 5 p.m. with a reception (free food) and her talk will begin at 6 p.m. We will finish the session with a book signing at 7 p.m. 

Program Goals

      • To establish a common educational experience for first-year students in order to build community at Eastern Michigan
      • To provide students opportunities to see the world through a different lens
      • To foster critical thinking and intellectual inquiry
      • To promote a culture of reading across campus
      • To help students understand how multiple disciplines can intersect

About "What the Eyes Don't See"

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. (This description is taken from Penguin Random House Publishing [PDF])

About Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha

Mona Hanna-Attisha, MD, MPH, FAAP, is a physician, scientist, and activist who has been called to testify twice before the United States Congress, awarded the Freedom of Expression Courage Award by PEN America, and named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. (This description is taken from Penguin Random House Publishing [PDF])

Reflection Questions

  • Prologue - How I Got My Name Expand dropdown
    • Dr. Mona writes, “We each have the power to fix things. We can open one another’s eyes to problems. We can work together to create a better, safer world” (p. 13). How did Dr. Mona’s actions make a difference in the community of Flint? Can you think of a time in your own life when you have made other people aware of a problem that they were not aware of? What do you believe you can you do as an individual to make the world a better and safer place?
    • Dr. Mona writes, “this is the story about the deeper crises we’re facing right now in our country: a breakdown in democracy; the disintegration of critical infrastructure due to inequality and austerity; environmental injustice that disproportionately affects the poor and black; the abandonment of civic responsibility and our deep obligations as human beings to care and provide for one another” (p. 13). Do you agree? Support your answer with examples you see from your own life.
    • Dr. Mona tells us that the everyday heroes in her story are the people of Flint, Michigan. Who is an everyday hero of your life? What qualities do they possess that makes them a hero?
  • Chapter 1 - What the Eyes Don't See Expand dropdown
    • Why did Dr. Mona initially tell Grace not to use bottled water to make formula for her infant daughter, Nakala? Why did Dr. Mona ignore the news about the contamination of Flint water? How does the media impact our opinions on what is safe and unsafe? How do you choose what media to pay attention to? Have you ever tuned something out, only to later realize its importance?
    • What are adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and toxic stresses? How can adversities like poverty, racism, and violence impact a child’s development? Are you exposed to any toxic stresses in your current, everyday environment? If you are, what can you do to counteract them? How can recognition of the life-long impact of toxic stresses change not only how we treat adults with the consequences of toxic stresses, but also the prevention of exposure to toxic stresses?
    • Dr. Mona explains that resilience is not a trait you are born with; rather, resilience is learned. She writes, “Just as a child can learn to be resilient, so can a family, a neighborhood, a community, a city. And so can a country” (p. 14). How can a child learn resilience? How can a country learn resilience? What challenges might a community like Flint face in trying to learn resilience?
    • Why did Dr. Mona decide to teach her pediatric residents about the history of racial injustice in the United States? What examples did she share when teaching residents about the history of racism in medical care? Why did she believe it was important for her residents to be made aware of the city’s weaknesses and needs, while also fostering solidarity with and empathy for Flint’s residents? How can pediatric residents support and strengthen their communities?
  • Chapter 2 - The Barbecue Expand dropdown
    • During her pediatric residency, Dr. Mona first heard the expression, “The eyes don’t see what the mind doesn’t know,” based on a quote by D. H. Lawrence. Why are pediatricians trained to look beyond what is immediately apparent? Describe a time in your own life when you learned more about a situation once you looked beyond what was visible. What action(s) did you take once you more fully understood the situation? This quote is reflected in the title of the book. What are the other meanings of the title?
  • Chapter 3 - The Valedictorian Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 4 - Haji Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 5 - Red Flags Expand dropdown
    • Why did Flint choose to switch its water source to the Flint River? What role did the Emergency Manager Law play in the Flint water crisis? What responsibilities do community leaders have to the citizens of the community they are representing? Do the leaders in your community answer to local citizens or to other leaders, such as the governor? Why do you think state officials chose to ignore the memo written by Miguel Del Toral of the EPA?
    • Had you heard about the water crisis in Washington, D.C., prior to reading this book? Why did the government and local agencies demand proof of impact before changes were made to the water delivery system there? How did the lack of adequate political representation in both Washington, D.C., and Flint influence how the water crises were managed?
  • Chapter 6 - First Encounter Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 7 - Miasma Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 8 - No Response Expand dropdown
    • Dr. Mona describes Flint as being in a “man-made state of emergency for forty years” (p. 128), with very high poverty rates, numerous abandoned homes, and little incoming tax 3 revenue. How did practices like racist employment policies, housing segregation, and blockbusting disproportionately affect black families? How did government policies and deindustrialization play roles in the water crisis in Flint? Why did Dr. Mona choose to work in Flint? How was she inspired by the history of Flint and the roles of labor rights, workers, and strikes—especially the women’s brigade strikers—in that history?
  • Chapter 9 - Sit Down Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 10 - Jenny + the Data Expand dropdown
    •  What complications did Dr. Mona and her team face as they studied the blood lead level (BLL) data of children in Flint?  Why is institutional review board (IRB) approval important for a research study like this?
  • Chapter 11 - Public Health Enemy #1 Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 12 - What Field Are You On? Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 13 - The Man in the Panda Tie Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 14 - Environmental Injustice Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 15 - Poisoned by Policy Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 16 - Shortwave Radio Crackling Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 17 - Meeting the Mayor Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 18 - Aeb Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 19 - The Press Conference Expand dropdown
    • Explain how Dr. Mona’s boss Melany supported her. Why was this support important?
    • Who is Dr. Mona seeing as the conference room fills? How is the crowd making her feel?
    • Why does Mona use the props of the baby bottle and formula? What do these symbolize?
    • On page 199, Dr. Mona writes, “I was under the gun again.” Describe a time when you felt “under the gun”, when time and pressure combined to make completing a task extra challenging. How successful were you in completing your task? What helped, and if you weren’t as successful, what do you think could have been helpful?
    • Dr. Mona writes, “The world shouldn’t be comprised of people in boxes, minding their own business. It should be full of people raising their voices, using their power and presence, standing up for what’s right. Minding one another’s business.” Do you agree? Why or why not? Give a specific example to support your answer.
    • After the press conference, Dr. Mona describes a feeling of euphoria, even if this feeling was all too fleeting. Have you ever felt a sense of euphoria after being successful with something you’d been working at for a long time?
    • What complications did Dr. Mona and her team face as they studied the blood lead level
      (BLL) data of children in Flint? How was their study affected by factors like seasonality,
      age, and repeated exposure to lead? Why is institutional review board (IRB) approval
      important for a research study like this? How did Dr. Mona prepare for the public release of
      her research?
  • Chapter 20 - Splice and Dice Expand dropdown
    • Would you have the courage to move on after a public attach like the one Dr. Mona encountered after the press conference?
    • Have you ever been in a position where you worked so hard on a project, just to get severely criticized once you turned it in? How did you react?
  • Chapter 21 - Numbers War Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 22 - Demonstration of Proof Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 23 - All the Things We Found Out Later Expand dropdown
    • How did the lack of corrosion control create additional problems in Flint? How did you feel when you learned General Motors switched back to Great Lakes’ water after noticing that engine parts were corroding? Why do you think the county health department did not alert medical providers or the public about the increase in cases of Legionnaires’ disease? Why do children face such a high risk of poisoning from environmental lead exposure?
  • Chapter 24 - Fire Ant Expand dropdown
    • Why was the data from Hurley an underestimation of exposure? Why was it important to
      frame population-wide lead exposure as an additional toxic stress in Flint? How can early
      interventions and continued advocacy mitigate toxic stress and give children with lead
      poisoning the best possible chance for recovery? What short- and long-term interventions
      did Dr. Mona recommend for affected children? What recommendations would you add to
      such a list of interventions?
  • Chapter 25 - Truth and Reconciliation Expand dropdown
  • Chapter 26 - Prescription for Hope

    Expand dropdown
    • What was your reaction to the fact that, at the beginning of the water crisis, Flint residents were paying some of the highest rates for water in the country? How would this impact personal actions like the recommended practice of flushing faucets? Why does Dr. Mona write that, in the wake of the crisis, many Flint residents were suffering from “community-wide PTSD” (p. 323)? What do you think she meant by this?
  • Epilogue - Haji and the Birds

    Expand dropdown
  • Flint Water Crisis Timeline