Black Women’s Mental Health and the Student Debt Crisis

No example is better than when it comes to black women and student debt. And the mental health of black women is suffering because of the crisis.

At a virtual event hosted by Ed Trust, Black Girls Vote, Higher Heights and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) came together for a powerful panel of all black women to discuss the student debt crisis and the mental health crisis affecting black women.

Following opening remarks from Acting CEO Denise Forte and U.S. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Black Latina student parent from Massachusetts, Belma Moreira shared her story of attending three for-profit colleges and owing more than $24,000. The single mother of four has seen interest on loans soar, when her income could barely afford the payments. Despite looking for an employer who would see her in value, “I never saw the income I was promised,” she said. Now 36, Belma is still enrolled in college and studying to become a social worker. Part of his debt has been forgiven and the remaining interest is accumulating, “but I’m not going to stop giving up on my dream”. She thinks all borrowers deserve debt forgiveness. And now that she has a 17-year-old going to college next year, she doesn’t want her child to fall into the same hole.

“A lot of people don’t understand the pressure that black women are under, especially during this pandemic,” said Lakeila R. Stemmons, National Director of Higher Heights. “They say Black doesn’t crack? Well, we’re cracking up inside,” she added.

Dr Shamell Bell of The Debt Collective and lecturer at Harvard University said: “Our connection, our stories, our united front, that is our power. As a student borrower myself, $250,000 for my Ph.D., so I can become a professor. We do all these things to get these jobs, and they keep moving the goal posts. Education should be free. It is a right. If we release black women from this debt, we all benefit. The shame and guilt we carry, we have to get rid of. But we need cancellation, not forgiveness.

Natasha Murphy, chief of staff of Black Girls Vote, said one of the biggest concerns she hears from students is the increase in student loans. “Registered students are anxious about how they will pay for the next semester. Senior graduates take jobs that aren’t their passion to prepare for that first payout six months after graduation. The debt they incur follows them beyond their academic careers.

NAMI’s Erma Sinclair said the implications of student debt weigh on the mental health of black women, especially first-generation college graduates like her. “There are broken promises,” she said. “I was promised a certain quality of life. It’s not just about a better paying job, but about a better quality of life for me and my family. The stressors of debt, depression and anxiety are an isolating experience. Black women feel a generational responsibility.

Deputy Director of Higher Education Policy Victoria Jackson cited Ed Trust’s recent report on how student debt affects the mental health of black borrowers and pointed out that black women are most burdened by the high cost of college education. In 1980, public college was $9,000. In 2020, the average tuition is over $25,000. In 1980, Pell Grant covered more than 50% of tuition fees; in 2020, it’s only 28%. Now, black women owe an average of $28,000 for a bachelor’s degree; $55,000 for a graduate degree.

Jackson added that black women struggle to manage reimbursement because the racial wealth gap is much larger than the salary gap. “We have fewer resources. Twelve years after starting college, black students see no decline and never see that balance dip. Debt can harm mental health: 64% of black borrowers report feelings of depression, hopelessness and suicidal ideation due to the burden of their student loans. »

Murphy of Black Girl Vote concluded, “The cancellation of all student debt for black students represents economic freedom, flexibility and security. And having income limits is a problematic approach. Just because black women have reached a certain income bracket, these people are just as deserving of forgiveness.

Federal government solutions are at hand: the Biden administration should improve income repayment plans to make monthly payments more affordable and double the Pell grant to match inflation to cover the current cost of college education .

In the words of Representative Watson Coleman, “Education is a public good and should be treated as such. We did it with K-12. Certainly, we can imagine a 21st century in which higher education is a public good.

Watch the recorded discussion here.

Robert P. Matthews