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 Jackson Water Crisis: An International Student Perspective 

By Erin Foley

Photo by Xenia Minton

Resident assistant at Millsaps College, Anu Mathew, has now moved from her home country of India, lived through COVID-19, and experienced a Mississippi water crisis.

“That was the funniest thing because people look at India as this third-world country but, speaking out of privilege, I’ve never had to go through any water problems,” said Mathew, when describing her clean water experience in India. 

Jackson water system comes from the Ross Barnett Reservoir and Pearl River, goes through a six-step treatment process to be provided to residents through the O.B. Curtis Water Plant and J.H. Fewell Water Treatment Plant. Many residents, including Mathew, say that the water crisis has been a long time coming, making it no surprise to lose water.

“I was at my desk shift at Millsaps on Monday and within the first 10 minutes, it was just the water was off but by the end of the hour, it suddenly was a full-on crisis and everyone was going back home,” recalled Mathew.

Born and raised in Mumbai, India, Mathew experienced extreme culture shocks within her first month in Mississippi. Mathew, now a sophomore, noted the southern hospitality and kindness shown by everyone during her time at Millsaps and especially during her transition from India to the U.S. Mathew was brought to Millsaps as an economics major from a scholarship program in India, nearly all the Indian international students also came for that same scholarship.  

Mathew was impressed with Millsaps’ efficiency in handling the crisis, as they set up portable showers and toilets, she still was skeptical about using them due to the whole campus also needing them. Millsaps has been on boil water notice the entire summer, and Jackson lifted it on Thursday, Sept. 16. However, students including Mathew feel skeptical about drinking the water.

“Even with the boil water notice being lifted, I knew before that the water was high in lead so even before I drank a lot of bottled water but now I don’t know what to believe anymore,” said Mathew.

Besides the water crisis, Mathew already had a hectic lifestyle during the beginning of sophomore year. When the water stopped running, grateful students enjoyed a week-long break.

“It was difficult but I was apologizing to my freshman residents for the crisis when they told me that they were fine, that they have been through worse and were just grateful to have a roof over their heads so after that I didn’t have many complaints,” said Mathew.

Mathew came to the U.S. without ever visiting, and while her mother visited before, they had never seen Jackson. After living in Jackson for a full year, Mathew cannot see herself in Jackson after college. During the past summer, Mathew held an internship in Meridian, Mississippi, so she has yet to return home to India since coming to college.

“I stay for my college because Millsaps is a great school and I like the academics here but I would leave later for bigger opportunities, and I personally think I’m not fit for the Jackson lifestyle after college,” said Mathew. 

As for the state of Jackson after the water crisis, Mathew imagines many people will be leaving either Millsaps or Jackson in general. Mathew believes Millsap students from Jackson are the least likely to leave due to family but those willing most likely will leave.

“I had a feeling when all of this happened that so many people would drop out or transfer because this is something no one actually wants to deal with every year”

After taking a history course, Mathew became more familiar with Jackson’s history. She recalled knowing before move-in that Jackson had poor areas and wasn’t properly funded; however, she had no idea the true extent. 

“I’m aware of why the crisis is happening but I am shocked as to how it’s still happening and how it remains the same, I haven’t heard of any progress as such,” said Mathew.

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Adam Brown
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