When news of the Flint water crisis broke national headlines, I couldn’t believe the reports I was reading. The citizens of Flint had been drinking river water contaminated not only by lead, but also with E. coli and trihalomethanes, for more than an entire year. Worse yet, they essentially were poisoned in order to save the city money. Every article brought new testimonies — new tragedies — from victims of the crisis.
This isn’t something that families in Flint can simply recover from. There is no bouncing back: Lead poisoning, at any threshold, will cause irreversible damage to the body. Children from Flint are the biggest victims, given that lead exposure results in effects reduced IQ, antisocial behavior or immunotoxicity, to name a few. The most haunting images from this catastrophe are those featuring “elected” officials proudly toasting with cups of tap water to celebrate the switch from the Detroit water system to the Flint River. It’s so haunting because it is the same people captured in those photos who would turn a blind eye the next week to an unending stream of public complaints, jugs of putrid brown water brought to city council meetings and widespread outbreaks of skin lesions/hair falling out.
Returning to Ann Arbor after Winter Break, I hesitated briefly at the thought of drinking a cup of water from the faucet. I kept asking myself whether or not I could trust the tap water after reading about the tragedy unfolding just a one-hour drive away — a ridiculous thought in hindsight. Reviewing the depravity and failure of the Flint city government and Michigan state government didn’t give me any sense of reassurance. It only made me more skeptical and cynical about whom to trust. Nevertheless, I’m very certain my water isn’t contaminated (to the extent of Flint’s), but the question still lingers in my mind: What if the water here is poisoned, and I just continue to drink?
The University of Michigan is Gov. Snyder’s alma mater; he received not only his bachelor’s degree, not only his master’s degree in business administration, but also his juris doctor degree here nearly 33 years ago. It is disturbing — no, humiliating — to know that the man at the epicenter of the Flint water crisis walked through the Diag, sat in one of the Angell Hall auditoriums or took a stroll through the Law Quad.
Why do I mention his attendance at the University of Michigan? Well, to be frank, it boggles my mind that someone like him could come from this school — my school. The evidence for Gov. Snyder as an active villain of the crisis couldn’t be any more clear or well documented: Unconscionable shortcuts were taken, warnings were ignored or even refuted, and action was, and still has been, limited. Believe it or not, part of the University’s mission statement is “to serve the people of Michigan … and in developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.” Though he is not completely to blame, Gov. Snyder, as an alum, has failed the mission of the University of Michigan, given what has unfolded in Flint. The community of Flint has been devastated from his administration’s inaction and negligence. There is simply no excuse for what has happened.
As a current undergraduate student here at Michigan, I can’t help but wonder how Gov. Snyder came to be able to make the unfortunate decisions he makes today. Was it during his first four years at Michigan that he began valuing money over the lives of children, was it when he began to work at Irvine or was it when he returned to Ann Arbor to create Ardesta LLC?
The University of Michigan shouldn’t be attributed to the mistakes of our governor. However, if men like Gov. Snyder can come from schools like the University, perhaps our degrees should begin requiring all students to take a course in ethics and morals. This might make it more difficult later on to devalue human life. While I recognize it is idealistic to say starting salary shouldn’t matter, our institution needs to reaffirm that our degrees mean we are not only educated, but also committed to the public good. If the world of money after college will try to corrupt us, our education should serve as a deterrence. Somewhere along the way, Gov. Snyder forgot about what it means to be an alum of the University of Michigan. Somewhere along the way, he began to drink poisoned water.
Hunter Zhao is a member of the Daily’s Editorial Board.