The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday March 25th

Q&A with Katherine Fitzgerald, a UNC alum raising money for the Flint water crisis

Katherine Fitzgerald, a UNC graduate and current graduate student at Arizona State University, made the news this week after tweeting that she would donate to the Flint water crisis in Michigan for every point that Miles Bridges scored in Duke’s game against the Michigan State Spartans Tuesday night. Staff Writer Paige Nehls spoke with Fitzgerald, who said the tweet was a reaction to a Duke fan holding a sign that read “The water tastes better in North Carolina.”

The Daily Tar Heel: What made you decide to donate the money?

Katherine Fitzgerald: I didn’t really think much about it. It just seemed really natural in that, like timing-wise, it was Giving Tuesday, so I was seeing people talking about that all day with different causes to support. And also, you know, it was coming right after Thanksgiving, and I had seen a few people talking about like during Thanksgiving, there was that one tweet about a lady who needed 166 water bottles just to try to have a normal Thanksgiving. So, I’d definitely been thinking about Flint more recently, and then just seeing that happen right after on a day that people were donating anyway, just seemed so natural.

DTH: How did you hear about the Duke fan's sign?

KF: I had been planning on watching the game anyway, but I hadn’t had it up yet. I was just following the pre-game stuff on Twitter and I saw a few sports writers from the Triangle mentioning it. When I saw the first tweet about it, there was no picture and I was just kind of like shocked, like 'Oh maybe he misheard it or something,' I kind of thought it was a cheer. Then I saw the picture actually of the sign from some of the sports writers who were there, and there were other people on Twitter kind of condemning it right away — not just Carolina fans, I know Duke fans were upset about it, too. So there was backlash right away. So for me, I think with social media it’s easy to let someone know when they’re wrong, but I didn’t want to just stop there, like "Oh this Duke fan is terrible." I wanted to move it forward into actually making a difference and not just, you know, calling out a Duke fan, but helping the root problem. 

DTH: Has anyone reached out to you to help?

KF: Social media is really powerful in the sense that it spreads so quickly. Right away, some of my initial tweets about it got picked up by the UNC humor account and by Michael Hardison, he’s a good friend of mine … so once he retweeted it, a lot of other people kind of started jumping on board. There were a lot of other J-school alums who reached out about it, and it just started reaching out to more and more people … It was a lot of good support from people I knew at UNC who also have large followings on social media … and I think that really is what helped this spread.

DTH: How much money did you expect to raise?

KF: I don’t know that I had a goal right when I tweeted. I obviously was hoping more people would kind of do it as well, but I was surprised at how much it kept going. Some people were tweeting back their receipts to show what they did. People were also tweeting the different amounts that they donated … Just from like the first night, I think that it was at least $300.

DTH: Have you been involved with other Flint water crisis relief efforts?

KF: Sometimes it’s easy to forget about what happened there, or it was never something that never directly affected me, and it’s also shocking to me that it lasted and it’s still happening. I think a lot of people thought that it would just get fixed, so I know that I’m just as guilty as not doing as much as I could have … I think a lot of people knew what was happening in Flint was wrong, but this was a final kick in the butt to get people to donate. I think what’s most important about this is now that the sign is gone and the game is past — for people to not go back to totally forgetting about Flint.

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