Instructor Reflection – After the Glow: Radium Girls (8.2)

By Karen Brehmer

Kasey Julian chose “Radium Girls” as her topic for her visual essay in a composition II course at Oakland University in the winter semester of 2017. Visual essays for this course are research projects designed to fulfill a multimodal component for the course objectives, demonstrating skills of academic research and rhetoric. Not only did Kasey choose a unique topic for her presentation, but the structure, composition, and research in imagery, music, and data are compiled to tell the story of what once was, while making a striking commentary on how we presently rank health care and capitalism in this country. Kasey has honed several skills in research and technology to build a remarkable presentation on what once was – and still is.  

“Radium Girls” opens with a ticking clock and concise recap of World War I; the catalyst for why women began working in factories at the time. As the tick-tock gives way to music – “Pretty Baby”, a famous ragtime piece from around the 1920s – the tone for the project is set. Kasey does a beautiful job of presenting facts to tell the story of these girls, while her introduction provides elements of concise foreshadowing. The work is clever and crisp. She is careful to include only what is necessary to show happened in the story of the radium girls, who it affected, and how. Her ability to employ all elements of rhetoric are executed in a way I’ve seen few others do with these projects for this course.

The original project for my class asks that students create a 3-5 minute presentation, and Kasey’s original project perhaps went just beyond that time-frame. It contained two song choices from the 1920’s and the ticking time clock as well as all material on the radium girls, but the present-day effects and links to the Flint water crisis were not included. The link to present-day was subtler – what Kasey was able to show in terms of how corporations and companies handled those ill and injured on the job is quite similar to what we see today from large companies and corporations when disaster strikes. I felt these choices created a strong balance throughout the presentation.

In this final 16-minute version, the direct statements of greed and correlation to the Flint water crisis are sound, however, the additions need more transition for flow. “Radium Girls” originally began as the single topic, and had a subtle nod to current health care and consumerism/capitalist issues still present today. The addition of Flint (with the music change for present-day) takes a starker tone and has a different set of circumstances that warrants its own focus – though the link of poisoning innocent citizens in the name of greed is a clear link.

Since the winter of 2017, Kasey has spent considerable time revising and adding research, visuals, and overall content to “Radium Girls”. I have been fortunate to see several of these revisions, and am enormously proud of the final, fuller product she has created. “Radium Girls” is eerie. The piece is sharp, concise, and knowledgeable. As you watch Kasey Julian’s research unfold, consider what she’s presented: what’s really changed in the last century?