Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatric doctor from Flint, Michigan came to Cornell to speak on behalf of her book, What the Eyes Don’t See, which considers her research on the Flint Water Crisis. She addressed students both in the NS 2600: Introduction to Global Health class on Tuesday morning and to a wider audience at the Wolitzer Seminar in Kennedy Hall on Tuesday evening.
The Global Health program and Division of Nutritional Sciences have been planning this event since before the onset of the pandemic, as the book has been used in Prof. Jeanne Moseley’s, nutritional sciences, Introduction to Global Health course since 2018.
Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s memoir details her discovery of how the children of Flint were being exposed to lead in their tap water after a water source switch. Throughout the book, she discusses her fight against government officials and the backlash she experienced while exposing the crisis. Hanna-Attisha is a firm believer in the intersection of advocacy and public health.
“Those in the medical field need to be trained in communication and advocacy. It is so needed especially when there is misinformation or a lack of information,” Hanna-Attisha said during the seminar.
The auditorium was packed –– the long awaited event had made itself known across the Cornell community through department listservs and flyers posted around campus. The discussion was moderated by three outstanding student leaders in the Global Health program, Efe Airewele ’20, Talia Bailes ’20 and Sravya Varanasi ’22 and was organized by current teaching assistants and members of the Global Health Student Advisory Board.
Rebecca Gordon ’23, a current teaching assistant for Prof. Moseley’s course, touched on Dr. Mona’s resilience throughout her journey of exposing the dangerous levels of lead in the Flint water.
“She’s a true inspiration to everyone in the class. There are so many points in the book where she goes against big names in Michigan and American politics and she still held her ground,” Gordon said.
For Gordon, who aspires to go into medicine,opportunities to hear from leading global health experts like Dr. Mona have widened her perspective.
“Dr. Mona further solidified my interest in working in the healthcare field. Hearing about her persistence when faced with adversity during the Flint water crisis showed me that the healthcare field is a demanding but rewarding line of work,” Gordon said.
For many students, the class is a favorite at Cornell and has changed their perspectives on future academics and career aspirations.
“One of the greatest things I’ve taken from the class is all the different perspectives you need to consider when addressing a public health issue,” said Luke Martini ’25. “I definitely recommend the course to anyone interested in the healthcare field.”
Martini proceeded to elaborate on the importance of this class as a foundation for all types of students, whether on the medical track or not.
“Dr. Mona’s story showed me that people in a position of authority need to use their power to advocate for those in the community,” Martini said.“We are given a great privilege to all attend Cornell University, and we should use this amazing opportunity to advocate for others no matter what field of work we go into.”
Many students left the seminar invigorated, with signed copies of What the Eyes Don’t See in their hands.