The Voices Silenced by Student Debt

The Voices Silenced by Student Debt

Payments are set to restart for millions of people who are still struggling to recover from the pandemic. This series brings their stories directly into the spotlight.


Thanks to a moratorium on payments in effect during the Covid pandemic, most student loan borrowers haven’t had to make a payment for over two years. But pandemic relief is only a temporary fix. On May 1, payments are set to restart for millions of people who are still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Many are facing anxiety, fear, and financial ruin at the possibility of drowning under student loan debt.

Pandemic relief allowed people to put food on the table, pay rent, and afford health care and medicine during the health crisis. Others were able to get ahead for the first time; they started small businesses, purchased homes, and saved for retirement. A world without student debt changed their lives for the better, and there is now an unprecedented movement to permanently cancel student debt.

Among a world of pain, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities have disproportionately felt the pressures that student borrowers feel for years after they incur debt. Research has shown that BIPOC students are more likely to incur student debt than their white peers and to have more trouble paying it back. There is no question that the student debt crisis is a racial equity issue. Following is a series of stories from communities impacted by debt in collaboration with the Student Debt Crisis Center, bringing the voices of everyday people into the spotlight and highlighting their calls for our government to cancel student debt by presidential executive action.

I am a 57-year-old woman who has never been able to purchase a home. The consolidated student loan debt that I acquired from my deceased ex-husband has negatively impacted my debt-to-income ratio and prevented me from qualifying for a mortgage. I also have aging parents on a fixed income, and I would like to assist them more financially to cope with the constant increase in living cost, medications, and overall medical care, but my student loan debt has hindered me from giving back to them.

People like me have gone to school to try to positively impact this world with our specialities and skills, only to be burdened by overwhelming and constantly increasing student debt. I earned an MA in early childhood special education, having pursued higher education because I wanted to give back to the students and families who needed me the most. I have been in the field of special education for over 18 years and have dedicated my efforts, passion, hope, nurturing, and love to the students and families I have served.

My purpose is to positively impact the youngest learners through early intervention, but my philosophy is that of an architect. If the foundation is laid appropriately for the student, when the storms and possible difficulties for learning arise, it will require fewer repairs than a structure whose foundation was laid on uneven ground. I would hope that my longevity and commitment to the field would be honored as a form of giving back to society and humanity overall, and would warrant consideration and cancellation of my student loan debt.

—Tara French
In debt since 2006

I cannot start a family. I have given up completely on that. I lost my individual housing and had to move back in with my mother. I cannot even consider marriage, and cannot purchase a home and never will. I have lost everything because of my student loans.

At 31, I shouldn’t be on my fifth college degree simply because I cannot afford the payments and need to defer. My physical health and mental health has suffered. I have experienced depression, and now, due to Covid, I am laid off and unable to find work. In my last several interviews, I was called overqualified. One recruiter told me my education made them feel inadequate, but I was also denied that job. I am stuck in an endless cycle of not just debt but also school. I have never had a year “off” from school because of student loan debt. How do you handle roughly $376,000 in student loan debt when 90 percent of that debt is from a bachelor’s degree?

–Althea Nicole McBride
In debt since 2012

I I pursued higher education because I wanted to become an artist, and got a bachelor’s degree in my 40s. I am now in my 60s. My original loans were for less than $20K. I have been struggling to pay, to defer, to pay again since the early 2000s. I am pretty sure I have paid at least the original amount of debt. What is shocking to me now, in hindsight, is how predatory the entire student loan business is.

—L.B. Sawahata
In debt since 2001

My school’s recruiter claimed I should be able to be more marketable with a master’s degree, but I still can’t seem to make what I deserve. I support free college and canceling student debt because the current system is beyond broken. When other countries subsidize their students, why can’t ours?

—Michael Merginio
In debt since 2014

We spent years unable to purchase a home because our debt-to-income ratio was too high. I worked in education for 12 years and paid my loans for 10. I made the payments to qualify for loan forgiveness, but, because I wasn’t enrolled in the right repayment plan, several of my payments didn’t count toward forgiveness.

I had to leave that job, partially because of the pandemic. I am now unemployed, with a $100k+ debt hanging over my head. Equity is critical. As a first-generation Black woman, I know I am in a situation that my privileged counterparts don’t have to experience. Making college more affordable and canceling student debt would be a step in the right direction as we attempt to create a level playing field in an already inequitable world.

—Bridgett Beene
In debt since 2010

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