Students’ Futures Are Better Off Debt-Free

We have goals and dreams. But while we’re drowning under mountains of student loan debt, our pursuits seem impossible.

The NAACP leads student debt relief activists in a chant in front of the White House after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s student debt relief program on June 30, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images)

On a brisk night, we decided to sleep outside the Supreme Court to demand they protect our rights while pursuing a higher education. We believe that protest is power—and this summer, students like us were holding our breath that they’d do the right thing and uphold the Biden administration’s actions to cancel our debt.

In the end, the Supreme Court ruled against the Biden administration’s actions on student debt and effectively ended affirmative action for people of color in higher education—all in the same month the nation honored Juneteenth.

For young people, especially Black women and students of color, our livelihood and our futures are quite literally in jeopardy. We have goals and dreams, and want to be able to thrive and contribute to our communities. But while we’re drowning under mountains of debt, those pursuits seem almost impossible.

Supreme Court rulings are not just “politics” or something to be dismissed—this is about people, many of whom are Black and brown and helped to build this nation. Even though Black women are among the most highly-educated demographics in the nation, we carry an average of over $37,000 in debt, compared to almost $22,000 for women overall and $18,000 for men.

In his book The Black Tax: The Cost of Being Black in America, author Shawn Rochester shows the cost of racism: over $70 trillion for Black Americans, since our ancestors were forced into slave labor. Because of the racial wealth gap, we are behind before we can even fully get started.

If we want real change, we need consistent, steady and systemic justice. That means every ruling, every action by the current administration, every vote in Congress, every person we elect, and every protest in the streets, all count.

We need policies that will help us work toward the futures we deserve and eliminate the debt we should never have been saddled with in the first place.

When we slept outside of the Supreme Court building, we hoped to remind the justices and our nation what is truly at stake, and to fight for our futures. But, this one night outside does not compare to what can happen to us on the other side of this ruling. Student debt can impact and set off a chain reaction and bring about other compounding issues, including housing and food insecurity. Right now, one of us has to choose among making payments on a home, a car or student loan.

As first-generation college students, our families made sacrifices so we could pursue our dreams. One of us had grandparents who could not read or write. One of our moms lives on disability and had to take out a parental loan just so we could go to school. The other lives on social security income. The sacrifices our families made for us to get to college is above and beyond; we should be in a position to pay it all back to them, and then some.

But we don’t need pity. We need policies that will help us work toward the futures we deserve and eliminate the debt we should never have been saddled with in the first place. We hope the Biden administration and Congress will continue to take additional actions to help students like us.

The Supreme Court failed us, and we fear what is on the other side. But that doesn’t mean we will give up. We will organize our way towards true progress because we simply do not have a choice. Many movements for making meaningful change started with young people just like us. And we won’t stop now. Elections in 2024 are right around the corner and we will remember who had our backs and who chose to ignore us and risk our chance at opportunity.

We know firsthand that our futures are better off debt-free. 

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

About and

Sinyetta Hill is a senior at UW-Milwaukee. She is an organizer with Rise, a national student- and youth-led advocacy organization that fights for affordable higher education, student debt relief and youth political power.
Sinyetta Hill is a senior at UW-Milwaukee and MyKeisha Wells is a graduate student at UM at Ann Arbor.