This student loans thing is actually a real big deal, you guys. I won’t go into a long comparison of the student loan debt panic of late to the sex panic of the late 20th century, mostly because I doubt any implicit and attendant comparison between getting an education (under false premises, but still) and contracting HIV holds up, and further, I wouldn’t want it to, but let me just say this: Sometime in the past few years, the conversation about student loan debt has come to be primarily structured around shame. And I think we all agree that when the discourse has no recourse but shame? It ends no where good.
What I mean is this: I, and several people I know, have seriously considered taking drastic measures because of our student loan debt. Leaving the country permanently, faking our own death (I’m not fucking kidding), ending our lives — the state of the economy and employment options, coupled with the shame attached to this debt (lots of it imposed to cover for the reality that huuuuuuge third party-profits are being made from student loan debt), has made the situation really fucking dire. REALLY FUCKING DIRE. It’s probably needless to say, but this country has a long history of deploying shame to deflect or redirect blame, and the shame gets thrown at those people who are most vulnerable to it.
I have a lot of student loan debt. I also have a PhD, so, exploitative and fucked academic job market and tenure system notwithstanding, I am actually among the few kinds of debtors who might one day be in a position to pay this debt off. Many people have as much debt as I have for a 4 year degree, I mean fuck. I went into this debt partially out of necessity, and partially through a series of questionable choices (mostly in terms of where I chose to go to school — ie not a top-tier university, thus, nonviable stipends) — but for the overwhelmingly large part, not because I spent money irresponsibly and I think that I am the worst case scenario here. I read a news story today about a woman in Detroit (which, oddly enough, is basically where this proposal for the reform act started — at my own university! So proud!) who went into $100k of debt to get a bachelor’s and master’s in teaching so that she could teach in the Detroit public school system, possibly the most tragic school system currently operating in our country. She grew up in Detroit and went to school there and wanted to get an education so that she could go back into the system and try to make it better. Now she can’t get married, or buy a house, or really do anything, because she pays 30% of her income to the student loans, and she hasn’t made a dent. She shouldn’t feel even the tiniest bit of shame, but I bet she does, because it is easier to find the one thing that she could have done differently than it is to look clearly at the real problem, to follow the profits instead of recognizing the fact that this woman has basically mortgaged her entire life to try to do something good, the right thing, even.
I maybe deserve a little shame. And believe me, during the past few months I have spent many early mornings fetal style, shaking, clutching a lemon and thinking about how I will never have a home, a partner, children (fuck a new car, or vacation, I’m way past that) — really important things that I have been led to believe, and have begun myself to truly believe, I don’t deserve. Sidebar: I wonder how much big pharma is making off SSRI and benzo scrips for student loan debtors. I don’t know how much Obama’s proposed reforms, as well as those already enacted but not previously known about or made available, will help this situation, or will help any of us individually. I don’t think they represent a magical cure for debt or shame, and I am trying to be realistically and cautiously optimistic. But when I got the letter saying my loans qualified under this act? And then got online, read the details, and applied? I saw a light at the end of a tunnel where previously there had been no light at all. Maybe I can be a person! Maybe I deserve to be a productive and contributing member of society! Maybe I can get out from under my parents! Maybe I can face the shame that does belong to me without having to take on Sallie Mae’s as well.
And then I started going a little bananas and thinking that I could also conquer health insurance today, which, still no.
I would never shame anyone for their college choices but to me, I would die of heart-popping-out-of-my-mouth anxiety if I was saddled with anything near a six-figure college debt. Stay in(-state) school, kids.