HASTS student discovers hidden stories in Flint water crisis
Graduate student Elena Sobrino looks beyond the headlines to study interactions between the city’s people and institutions.
“People usually think MIT is exclusively focused on STEM research. I saw this program, HASTS, as a way to be in conversation with physical or biological scientists, as a social scientist myself.”
— PhD student Elena Sobrino
As the story of lead contamination in the water of Flint, Michigan, was unfolding in the national news, Elena Sobrino was finishing up her undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan at Flint. Now, as a graduate student in MIT’s Program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS), the Flint native studies “the questions the water crisis has raised about science, power, and where to go from here.”
“It’s an ongoing water crisis. People are continuing to deal with not knowing if their water is safe or not,” Sobrino says.
Her interest in the societal implications of science drew her to HASTS, despite a common misconception. “People usually think MIT is exclusively focused on STEM research. … I saw this program, HASTS, as a way to be in conversation with physical or biological scientists, as a social scientist myself.”
In addition to bringing the perspective of a Flint resident to her research, Sobrino also draws on her experience as an aid worker. Before she began her studies at MIT, Sobrino volunteered for the American Red Cross in Flint, where she worked on diversity and outreach projects and trained other volunteers. There, she noticed the dramatic shift in the resources that became available when news of the crisis went national.