I have student debt. Along with 45 million other Americans. It’s not six figures and it’s about half the amount the average American is harboring. It’s no secret that college in the US is expensive. Student loans seemed inevitable as a first generation out-of-state college student. The student debt crisis has impeded millions of Americans from home ownership, saving, marriage, starting a family and even moving out of their parents’ home.
Black women graduate with substantially more student debt than anyone else. The gender/racial wage gap compounded by the absence of generational wealth and the burden of family responsibilities exasperate the student debt crisis. My very traditional family was apprehensive about my decision to attend college. They feared the worst: I would turn into a radical feminist, take off my hijab and do the unthinkable like travel abroad solo. Well…
However, I was determined to go to college. I desperately yearned for a better life and marriage just seemed like a prison transfer. I wanted more out of my life. I wanted to hone in on my writing, study abroad, defy misogynistic expectations and become financially independent. College is where I discovered community organizing, radical feminist theory, and the gender/racial wage gap.
It’s where I learned that a cover letter is actually a writing sample. College is where I had many of my first milestones: first time lobbying, first time traveling abroad, first time presenting at a conference and opening my first bank account. My family was adamant about reminding me that when it came to financing my education, I was entirely on my own. While my classmates received allowances, I spent my refund on car repairs, books and a new laptop. The majority of my student debt was acquired from trying to remain in school.
If I had to do it all over again, I would’ve still gone. The debt didn’t deter me because I knew it would pay off eventually. Black candidates need two or more levels of education than a white candidate to qualify for the same job. Essentially, I am competing against a white high school drop-out in the job market. Oh, and did I mention I’m also paid less because of my gender? My first job out of college was working on a project to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. I just wrote a paper about this last semester! I was ecstatic because I probably wouldn’t have qualified without my educational background. I also took a Law & Politics of Reproduction class which changed my life.
Prior to college, I felt marginalized, trapped and unseen. College equipped me with a necessary credential while enabling me to develop insight, framework, and praxis. College is where I discovered the language of liberation. I became the radical feminist my family warned me against. One who is now living a self-determined life she didn’t believe was ever possible.