I am an adult in age (whether this is in spirit too has yet to be determined). This is known and accepted by everyone, including my parents, but there are still certain things that my mom won’t let me forget despite this new phase in my life. One: She brought me into this world and, should she need to, could take me out of it. Two: It’d be wise to represent her well as a person she raised, or as she puts it, “Don’t be embarrassing me out there.” And three: There’s a decently-sized amount of debt looming over me, waiting to be taken care of after I graduate in December.
She’ll pop this into our conversations every few months or so and urge me to think about how I might repay the loans I’ve taken out. I never really have an answer, so I rely on my nonverbal communication skills — heavy sighs, low grumbles — just so she’ll stop. I know she won’t.
This has bothered me up until the view of my college experience coming to a close began creeping into my life’s frame. Today, it’s squarely in the shot, but it’s not exactly focused. Soon though, a director will move their hand, signaling it to move up a few steps. In a matter of months, I’ll be done, and I’ll have a degree and tens of thousands of dollars in loans to prove it.
When President Joe Biden announced his plan to forgive up to $20,000 of U.S. borrowers’ student loan debt, my mom and I talked about what this meant for me. Sure, it’s a reduced amount, but it’s only shrinking a 6-foot shadowy figure to, like, 5-foot-10. My debt is basically the average height of an American man. The match wasn’t called off. I’m still being motioned onto the mat, and I have to figure out a way to pin him down. For reference, I’m only 5-foot-3.
So far, writing this has been easy, but now I’m getting nervous. At some point, I’ll have to broach the subject of how I racked up this undisclosed amount of debt. I can already see the Facebook comments about people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and paid their way through school without any help — especially government help. I imagine if the text could speak, the last part would be whispered. Who is to blame but me and my lack of financial literacy? they will ask. They will ignore my words that have not placed blame on anyone, and they will also ignore any evidence that larger, systemic issues might be at play for the $1.75 trillion in student loan debt that this country has.
To them, I’m just a complaining Black girl who’s mad she couldn’t get an all-expenses paid trip to higher education. Maybe that’s fair. What’s not fair is that student loan debt affects Black students disproportionately, making them the racial group most likely to carry higher amounts of student loan debt and not be able to pay it off. What’s not fair is that without at least a bachelor’s degree, people on average will earn $30,000 a year, according to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. For those who have borrowed large amounts just to earn a coveted degree that’s supposed to propel them to upward economic mobility, a good chunk of their earnings post-graduation will now have to go toward repayments.
There is no chance for the playing field to ever be level as long as there are people being drowned in debt. Up to $20,000 forgiven is a good start, but it’s no solution.
I wouldn’t be writing this without having taken out loans. Many were needed to attend a private school during my first two years of college, but since transferring, I have still found myself having to use them to pay my rent. I couldn’t dedicate myself to learning how to be a journalist without doing so.
Along with the loans, I have a job and scholarships, so I’m privileged to not have to worry about money now. However, I can’t deny that the fight I and so many others have gone through and will have to go through to pay off our loans is a scary one. And after December, I’ll gain new access to a part of our world that often feels like it bets on people who look like me to lose.