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First Year Summer Reading Program

Your Westminster education begins even before you set foot on our beautiful campus, with this year’s summer reading — What the Eyes Don’t See by pediatrician and public health expert Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha.

Because every first year student will read the same book, the summer reading assignment provides a common intellectual experience for you to share with your future classmates and professors. It will give you a sense of what college-level reading is like, and serve as the basis for classroom discussion and campus events this fall. Your experience with the book will set you on the road to a liberal arts education by challenging you intellectually and personally, and helping prepare you to make contributions in our rapidly changing world.

In What the Eyes Don’t See, Dr. Hanna-Attisha describes how economic decline, democratic exclusion, shortsighted policies, and indifference combined to create a public health crisis. She considers how easy it is to overlook grave threats when they don’t affect us directly. She shares insight about the ways her personal and family history contributed to her activism. And, she describes her role on the team of community volunteers, researchers and civil servants that blew the whistle on the dangers of Flint’s drinking water.

We hope you enjoy the book. As you read it, consider the questions it raises about the nature of poverty, exclusion and injustice, as well as the ability of individuals to make a difference and bring about positive change. If you’d like to know more about the situation since Flint’s water problem was exposed, you can read about some of the progress that has been made to improve Flint’s drinking water, as well as the challenges that remain, here: Flint Has Clean Water Now. Why Won’t People Drink It? - POLITICO.

You might also enjoy listening to these NPR reports:

Your job now is to read What the Eyes Don’t See and to write an essay in response to one of the three questions provided below. Follow the instructions for writing and submitting your summer essay that are provided there. Be sure to upload it to the drop box on the FY 000-01 First Year Summer Reading page on Desire2Learn by Monday, August 19th.


Flint residents protest outside the Michigan State Capital in January 2016.
Source: Wikimedia Commons


Corroded water pipes.
Source: Min Tang and Kelsey Pieper

Below are the links to alternate formats for the summer reading book What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City.


  Barns & Noble

If you require additional assistance please contact the director of the Office of Disability Resources, Faith Craig at

Also, be sure to bring your copy of What the Eyes Don’t See when you come to Westminster in August.


Essay Instructions

Instructions for Writing your Essay

  1. Review the three essay prompts below, then consider them as you read and reflect on the book.
  2. Choose one of the three prompts to focus your essay.
  3. Write a 2-page essay that responds to the question(s) posed by your selected prompt.
  4. Don’t worry about writing a comprehensive answer to all the prompts but do be sure to use examples from the book and explain how those examples illustrate the points you want to make.
  5. Save your essay file as a .doc, .docx,.rtf or .pdf file
  6. Title your file with your last name and the words “summer essay”
  7. Follow the instructions below for submitting your essay.

Instructions for Uploading Essay

By Monday, August 19, upload your essay to the dropbox on the FY 000-01 page on Desire to Learn

Click on Dropbox from the menu at the top of the page. Then, select “What Eyes Don’t See Summer Essay” and use the uploader to submit your essay.

Essay Prompts

  1. Dr. Hanna-Attisha describes her story as full of “demoralizing realities to face. But there is another story, another side of Flint. Because it is also a story about how we came together and fought back, and how each of us, no matter who we are…has within us a piece of the answer…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). The story of Flint is one of crisis and failure, but it is also one of resilience and hope. What caused Flint’s water problems and why were they so difficult to solve?

    • What motivated some individuals to get involved while others stayed on the sidelines or contributed to the problem?

    • Do you consider the story to be more about crisis and failure or more about resilience and hope?
  2. The title of the book comes from a D.H. Lawrence quote “The eyes don’t see what the mind doesn’t know.” With this idea in mind, Dr. Hanna-Attisha insists on widening the “focus of pediatricians beyond what is immediately visible….Physicians need to be trained to see symptoms of the larger structural problems that will bedevil a child’s health and well-being more than a simple cold ever would” (pp. 23-24).

    • How does Dr. Hanna-Attisha make sure that her pediatric residents broaden their perspectives in ways that improve their ability to practice medicine and care for their patients?

    • How did Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s personal experiences and family history broaden her perspective in ways that contributed positively to her work?

    • How did this book broaden your own perspective? What are you now prepared to see that you wouldn’t have noticed prior to reading it?
  3. According to Dr. Hanna-Attisha, the field of public health appeals to many different kinds of people--humanitarians, mathematicians, statisticians and health providers. “It can be a religious calling, or it can spring from a passion for pure science” (p. 83). Her favorite public health stories are not “about scientific discovery alone. [They are] about people and community. That’s what science is supposed to be about—not an academic exercise for the ivory tower…. It’s about using the tools and technology available to make lives better” (p. 87).

    • In which ways does the book show scientific discovery and public advocacy working together, and in which ways does it suggest they might be at odds with one another?

    • How did individuals in the story use their passion to contribute to addressing the water crisis in Flint?

    • What are you passionate about? How might your own passions guide the work you do at Westminster and in your future after graduation?