The Howard University chapter of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (HU NAACP) hosted a panel discussion last week about the fight for canceling student debt ahead of The Supreme Court’s Feb. 28 hearing of oral arguments about President Biden’s student loan relief plan.
“The Future of Education” event took place Feb. 22 in the Alain Locke Hall on campus, where six students and non-profit representatives spoke to about 10 audience members.
First-generation college student and sophomore political science major Dezmond Rosier curated the event with the intent to educate Howard students about the impact of student loans.
Rosier, like many students, took out a loan and felt as if he “didn’t know what to do or who to talk to” during the process.
“Jumping into payments – major payments, which was something – not that I did not expect, but I could have been provided with more assistance in that process,” Rosier said. Through his involvement with the NAACP and discussions with his peers and community members, Rosier realized that he wasn’t alone in being unfamiliar with how to repay loans and the long-term effect of having them.
Panelists opened the event by introducing themselves and their positions on student debt.
The panel consisted of: junior Allyssa Williams, a member of Howard University’s Student Association (HUSA), junior Charis Haynes, a member of HUSA Senate, and sophomore Tariah Hyland, a member of the Howard Chapter of Black Girls Vote. The three students spoke to represent the student voice on campus and highlighted the importance of these conversations.
Dream Defenders representative Ashley Greene, the Young Invincibles representative Satra Taylor, and the NAACP DC branch representative Derrick Lewis were also on the panel to encourage students to take the initiative on campus and start by requesting a tuition-free education.
“Colleges and universities have turned into profit machines,” Greene said. “[They] need to be held accountable.” After the panel, Greene explained how campus student organizations could have prompted the increase in student debt.
“We saw the Panthers, literally the Panthers are founded at a community college where people are getting free education,” they said. “[Ronald Reagan] saw the Anti-War activist and he was like ‘we need to make student activism impossible by making access to college more difficult.’”
The longstanding effects of Reagan’s efforts have caused a ripple effect that has affected generations of families, particularly Black families.
Recent data highlighted in The Education Data Initiative revealed Black students owe an average of $25,000 compared to white students and four years after graduation end up paying 6% more than they borrowed. The data indicates that black graduates are also likely to have trouble paying off their debt due to high payment rates.
Student debt can be a stressor for many college students, but for some first-generation college students, debt is an everyday reminder.
“It’s something that causes me anxiety every day,” Jacqi Kennedi, a freshman marketing major from New Jersey, said. “I chose Howard knowing it was going to be expensive but I didn’t know the severity of it or the severity of how it adds up over your lifetime.”
With many Howard students turning to GoFundMe fundraisers along with taking on multiple jobs in addition to applying for loans and scholarships to make ends meet, the reality is that a college education is no longer affordable for everyone – but the panelists argue that it could be.
Derrick Lewis, a representative from the NAACP DC branch and graduate of Huston-Tillotson University, advocated for students to mobilize and begin the work to cancel debt on an institutional level. “Choosing between the quality of life and education should not be,” he said.
A former HBCU student himself, Lewis was able to relate to students’ issues on campus but reminded them that their power was in their voice. “Every voice matters, every perspective matters, you’re in the room for a reason.”
According to data from the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis, the student debt in the United States is estimated to be at $1.7 trillion with reports of it decreasing.
President Biden announced his administration’s plan to address student debt last year. The press release outlined a three-part plan meant to provide up to $20,000 in student debt relief for borrowers making less than $125,000 annually. The plan is currently awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court due to multiple lawsuits issued, according to Forbes.
Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman