A group of students from School of Music, Theatre & Dance Prof. Ashley Lucas’s Latino/a theater program for social change came to Central Student Government’s Tuesday meeting to perform a short skit on the Flint water crisis, urging the student body to create a resolution to help install long-term institutional plans to help the city.
Flint water was contaminated with lead after the city switched to the Flint River as a water source in April 2014 without introducing the necessary chemicals to stop the water from corroding the pipes and letting lead leach into the water, sparking significant health concerns for residents and gaining national attention and outcry. Recently, a judge has mandated that the state must provide 395,000 bottles of water to the city.
The skit took a spin on “A Christmas Carol,” following an average concerned but uninvolved student who was taken to the city of Flint during its time of crisis. The story touched upon the lack of clean water for children, and charged that there is a lack of response from Michigan’s government. The play also emphasized the lack of available washing water for high schools and retirement homes.
After their performance, the actors held a Q&A with the assembly in which they discussed possible ideas for collaboration and plans for a resolution. The group included seven students, including LSA senior Ramiro Alvarez, who said the group was interested in allocating a certain amount of supplies to selected high schools or groups. This, he said, is so they can focus in on long-term solutions. One solution he suggested was to compete against Michigan State University, mimicking the success of Blood Battle, to collect the supplies.
Over the duration of the crisis, CSG discussed ways to have campus-wide efforts to aid Flint residents by reaching out to fundraising groups, supporting organizations helping Flint and creating a partnership with UM-Flint’s student government.
Alvarez also said he believed CSG could represent the students interested in helping Flint to the Board of Regents. The CSG president speaks before the Board at each Regents meeting.
“Right now, you can step out and get a drink of water from the water fountain,” Alvarez said. “But 45 minutes away from here, people can’t do that. And we know that it is a lot to just drop on you all but … we are here to work with CSG in any capacity that you can think of. Do something long term.”
Public Policy junior Nadine Jawad suggested the group could focus on elementary schools, since the water crisis has been associated with severe health risks among young children. The group agreed, detailing the developmental issues appearing in children from Flint, which include lower IQ scores, developmental delays and behavioral issues. Lead contamination in young children is considered incredibly hard to reverse once it has occurred.
Other effects from the contaminated water include teeth damage, severe bone pain and cancer.
Not everyone on the assembly was in favor of the performance. Rackham student Andrew Snow, CSG’s Ethics Committee vice chair, took fault with the skit’s portrayal of Snyder. The group satirized Snyder’s response to the Flint crisis as unprepared and uninterested in the city’s crisis, interested in only votes and his image.
Over the past year, Snyder has attempted to demonstrate ways in which Flint can trust their filters by vowing to drink from Flint for a month in April. He and the state government have drawn significant criticism because of the slow response and lack of oversight from government officials from the Michigan state government.
Snow noted that Snyder’s daughter attends the University and said she does not deserve to see the caricature of her father.
The group disagreed, stating their form of acting allowed them to channel their worries about the crisis in productive ways.
“This is a way of us processing the disillusionment, sadness and grief that comes with the little support that isn’t there,” Alvarez said. “This is a way of grieving through theater and is harmless. One person’s life shouldn’t be compared to a group of people … Her hurt feelings, we can work with that. But if it means getting a message across about a city of a million people, I’m willing to take that risk.”
University alum Mary Heinen, who was raised in Flint and works as a Prison Creative Arts Project coordinator at the University, attended to support the group and shared her experiences with CSG visiting the east side of the city.
“I was there recently and it looks like a bomb hit it,” she said. “There are homes there where there is no electricity. They don’t have transportation. Some don’t speak English … So for families to get water, they can’t get it. They can’t get out. They don’t have any means of communication with the outside world. So we need a long-term strategy that doesn’t rely on just dropping (water) off. We need community outreach.”