EPA Administrator visits Jackson State University for student roundtable on the water crisis

JACKSON, Miss. – A group of Jackson State University (JSU) students had the unique opportunity to get the latest news about the city of Jackson’s water crisis from the top official at the Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan met with students after he participated in a news conference with elected officials on campus on Sept. 7.  JSU President Thomas K. Hudson, J.D., hosted the news conference with the university backdrop prominently displayed.

“I’d like to thank EPA Administrator Regan for traveling to Jackson and allowing our students to have an opportunity to voice their experiences as members of the city who have been impacted by the water crisis,” said Hudson. “We appreciate the level of attention that our national, state and local officials are placing on this issue in order to reach a resolution.”  

A mix of students who represented the Student Government Association, athletics, residence life and the Sonic Boom of the South attended the almost hour-long meeting with Regan, who is the first Black man and second person of color to lead the EPA. With a degree from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, he is the first EPA administrator to graduate from an Historically Black College and University.

Vice President of Student Affairs Fran’Cee Brown-McClure, Ph.D., said the students were interested in trying to understand the process and timeline for improvements.

“They were aware the problems didn’t happen overnight,” she said. “They were also interested in ensuring accountability in the process for their elected officials.”

The students shared their experiences during the water crisis, with athletes and the head drum major discussing their concerns about the needs for showers after long practices and rehearsals during hot weather.

In response to the low water pressure throughout the city and boil water notice the University provided bottled water and rented portable toilets and portable showers for the use of campus residents. The university received an overwhelming amount of support from national and local donors in the forms of bottled water and monetary donations. Additionally, Walmart donated fans to help students combat the heat while the air conditioning was impacted by the low water pressure. Dining services also made adjustments to its usual routine, including bringing in potable water.

Madison Cathey, a senior who serves as president of the Student Government Association, said it was exciting to meet with Regan, a member of President Biden’s administration, and have him take time to listen to students. 

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to meet someone on the president’s cabinet, but I wish it could have been under different circumstances,” she said.

Cathey said she left the meeting with a sense of hope that elected leaders and others will work together and come up with short-term and long-term solutions to repair the water treatment system. She said students will continue to be advocates for the city and JSU.

Regan stressed to students the power they have when they use their voices collectively and reminded them of the effectiveness of writing letters to leaders. He also shared that the EPA offers numerous internships in many fields, not just environmental science, and encouraged students to apply for one of them.

“He stressed the power of an HBCU and the collective power of HBCUs,” Brown-McClure said. “It was very powerful to have a key administrator in the Biden administration on campus.”