(The Nine Justices of the Supreme Court, October 2022)
Several things strike me as notable about the photo above. First, all of the Justices of the Supreme Court are smiling — showing at least some comity for the camera. Second, there are now FOUR women! I’m old enough to remember when there were exactly ZERO women on the Supreme Court, so this evolution, while slow and somewhat imperfect, is still notable. Third, but perhaps most important, there are TWO African American justices, including Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson who was sworn-in on Friday as the first Black woman to reach the high bench. While it’s manifestly true that neither race nor gender signify particular outcomes, yet, the presence of more diversity than ever before surely will contribute over time to the continuing evolution of this most traditional, some would say most imperviously obtuse branch of government.
The Supreme Court convenes on the First Monday in October every year. This year, the Court convenes in an era of epic mistrust in its ability to issue rulings dispassionately, free from political bias. The Pew Research Center wrote on September 1, “Americans’ ratings of the Supreme Court are now as negative as – and more politically polarized than – at any point in more than three decades of polling on the nation’s highest court.” Pew research shows that just 48% of the general public hold a favorable view of the court, with a wide partisan divide in which only 28% of Democrats view the court favorably compared to 73% of Republicans. A June 2022 Gallup Poll put the public opinion into even starker relief, with just 25% of the public expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court — and that poll was taken before the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling overturning Roe v. Wade at the end of June.
While the controversy surrounding the Dobbs decision to overturn half a century of constitutional protection for a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion — the controversy included an unprecedented leak of the draft opinion written by Justice Alito — the problem of public trust in the court has much deeper roots and will be much harder for the current court to resolve. Some commentators trace the issue back to the Court’s 2000 ruling in Bush v. Gore concerning disputed vote counting in Florida; the decision had the effect of awarding the 2000 presidential election to the Republican candidate George W. Bush. All of the members of the Court who were appointed by Republican presidents voted in favor of Bush. Democrats decried the result as partisan politics, but the Democratic candidate Al Gore conceded and Bush became the president.
However, the much bigger problem for the Court’s legitimacy arose at the end of the Obama Administration when, after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to move forward with the Senate confirmation process for President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for the open seat on the court. At the time, McConnell claimed that since the vacancy occurred in a presidential election year, the nomination should wait until the results of the election were in so that “the people” could decide. And yet, in 2020, when another vacancy occurred in the middle of a presidential election season, McConnell did not hesitate to push through President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.
After the Garland affairs, President Trump was elected and he proceeded to nominate the very conservative Neil Gorsuch to succeed Justice Scalia. Gorsuch’s nomination was modestly controversial but he was approved and took the bench. However, a year later, when Justice Anthony Kennedy suddenly stepped down from the Court, fireworks broke out in the nomination hearings for Brett Kavanaugh who was accused of sexual misconduct when he was a student at Georgetown Prep. Kavanaugh was confirmed but bitterness lingered, and then the rushed nomination and confirmation process for Justice Barrett compounded the problem of eroding trust in the Court. The fact that the Trump nominees were all picks supported by the ultra conservative Federalist Society did not help the cause of impartiality.
The Dobbs decision seemed to be the inevitable result of a nomination process that appeared to be deeply corroded by political considerations. In truth, virtually all Supreme Court nominations have a political context since presidents nominate justices based on their own party’s views of how the Court should interpret the law. But few presidents get to pick three justices in a relatively short period of time, and the Trump appointments contributed to a significant shift in the ideology of the Court. The Dobbs decision was a predictable result, the overturning of a precedent that a majority of Americans believed was long settled.
Over the summer of 2022, the justices, themselves, engaged in a remarkable public display of criticism, with Justice Alito giving a speech on religious liberty that mocked critics of the Dobbs decision, and Justice Kagan spoke at a conference in which she said that judges who inject their personal preferences create legitimacy problems for the Court. Meanwhile, Chief Justice Roberts said that just because people disagree with a Court decision does not mean the Court is illegitimate, a statement that seemed to add fuel to the fire rather than quenching it.
The real test of the Court’s legitimacy and ability to regain public trust will come in this term which has a number of critically important cases on the docket, from affirmative action in higher education to voting rights, gay rights, environmental protection and a host of other important issues. It’s worth reading the excellent summary of pending cases by Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post.
Whatever the outcomes of the new Supreme Court term, Americans must remember that We the People are the ones who hold the ultimate power in this democracy. If we don’t like what’s going on, we need to VOTE and we need to let our Congressional representatives know what we expect of them in law and legislation. We cannot be passive about our constitutional rights; we must be informed and we must take an active approach to protecting our fundamental rights. This is what it means to be citizens in a democracy. We cannot just say that this or that branch of government is oppressive — we have the power to create change, and we should exercise that power at every opportunity. Too many Americans sit out elections. The results of the last ten years might have been very different had all Americans exercised their responsibility to vote. When citizens stay home, authoritarians take over. We are paying the consequences today, but we can change that for the future. Starting this fall — the 2022 mid-term elections are very consequential. Get up, get out, and VOTE!Continue reading →Read comments (0) Add Comment
Equanimity, 2004, copyright of Chris Levine, bbcnews obituary, commissioned by Jersey Heritage Trust
Was Queen Elizabeth II an iconic woman leader, or would she have disdained that idea with one of her trademark slight smiles and steely-eyed gazes? As the world mourns her death at age 96 — she was the longest-serving world monarch, on the throne for 70 years — we necessarily contemplate her historic legacy on the world stage.
Was Queen Elizabeth II a feminist? asks Washington Post London Correspondent Karla Adam in a story published the day after Elizabeth died. The answer, it seems, depends on how we define feminist behavior since the Queen, herself, never uttered a word about the topic. Writing in Britain’s The Guardian, Columnist Rachel Cooke notes, “It would be preposterous to describe the Queen as feminist. If she ever uttered the word, it is not recorded…But this isn’t to say that her ascension to the throne wasn’t a significant marker on the road to second wave feminism.”
Elizabeth became queen before I was born; she was the only British monarch of my experience. But I certainly never viewed her as a role model or pathbreaker — sorry, but true, she seemed something of a fuddy-duddy in her middle-aged years, that handbag and those outfits, and heck, we Americans were so much more modern than those stuffy royals. It all seemed like a play and very far away. Only more recently have I come to appreciate how the Queen fulfilled her role with a sense of purpose and dignity throughout her life. She came into the role through an accident of history — the abdication of her uncle King Edward VIII, leading to the coronation of her father King George VI, and her accession to the throne after her father’s death. On her 21st birthday, four years before she became Queen, Elizabeth swore that she would devote her entire life to service to the people of England, and she fulfilled that solemn oath every day thereafter.
Something happened to Elizabeth’s image and our perception of her as she matured, and the scandals and tragedies of her family had a lot to do with that. The death of Diana 25 years ago was, perhaps, the pivot point. While the Queen initially seemed to have no response to the tragedy (Charles and Diana had divorced — and Diana seemed to be almost taunting the royals with her very public affair with Dodi Al Fayed), advisors soon convinced the Queen that she had to be responsive and compassionate in making a public statement about Diana’s death. The Queen’s subsequent national television broadcast and appearance at the funeral helped to assuage bitterness that many Britons expressed toward her and the family. In more recent years, the Queen seemed to become more attuned to the public mood about royalty, and she cooperated in more public appearances designed to humanize her role.
But while Queen Elizabeth now receives abundant praise and reverence from all corners of the earth, it’s also true that she did not leverage her role to address critical issues where a word from her might have made a difference. Her defenders are quick to point out that the monarch has no political role, that remaining silent is the conventional expectation, and what she might have thought or said privately would remain private. We have to ask, however, whether that tradition of restraint and silence squanders opportunities to have an impact in ways that would create genuine social change. For example, King Charles III, when he was the Prince of Wales, was an advocate for environmental sustainability — why would he remain silent now that he is king?
In the same way, a word from the Queen about racial equity and freedom for the peoples of the former British colonies might have hastened the liberation that continues to be a struggle in too many places. She might have demonstrated a level of moral commitment to real justice; her silence suggested quite the opposite, a defense of the colonialism that oppressed so many citizens of nations under British rule. And while not expecting her to be an ardent advocate for feminism, a bit more forthright championing of women’s leadership might have encouraged other aspiring women leaders.
Queen Elizabeth was certainly an iconic leader across the last 70 years, and the outpouring of affection for her during this period of mourning demonstrates the myriad ways she touched and inspired people around the world. We will not see her likes again. At the same time, we can also hope that her son King Charles, and his son-and-future-king Prince William, will be more progressive in leveraging their roles to champion the values of justice, equity and freedom that are essential to sustain good and peaceful societies.
And, by the way, as Americans swoon over the impressive British displays of love and loyalty for their queen (does everybody keep closets full of those gorgeous uniforms?), let us remember that we fought a bloody war more than 230 years ago to liberate this nation from the oppression of the British Empire and its monarchy. We also fought in two bloody wars in the 20th Century to help Great Britain defeat the fascist menace that still circulates in new and pernicious ways in Europe and even in the United States.
Respect Queen Elizabeth, of course! But remember our American commitment to freedom and democracy, always.
Rest in peace, Elizabeth Regina.Continue reading →Read comments (0) Add Comment
Today, September 17, is Constitution Day! Federal law requires colleges and universities to observe this day in whatever manner seems appropriate for the community. This blog shares results of a campus survey about the right to privacy in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1972 Supreme Court ruling that recognized a woman’s right to have an abortion as protected by the right to privacy implied in the Constitution. An earlier case, the 1965 ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut, established the right to privacy for married couples using birth control, saying that while the Constitution did not explicitly state the right to privacy, that right is implied in the “penumbra” of several amendments including the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of the right to due process. Some legal commentators now speculate that the Dobbs ruling overturning Roe might also rollback the protections that Griswold accorded to the use of birth control — but that remains to be seen in future rulings and state legislation.
Catholic leaders hailed the Dobbs decision as a victory for the protection of human life. Catholic teachings view abortion as a grave moral evil, and the Church has advocated for the overturning of Roe v. Wade for decades. Nevertheless, many Catholics, people of other faiths and those who abhor abortion still view Dobbs with alarm because of its potentially sweeping impact on many other rights that the American public thought were long-settled. Disagreement exists about whether abortion should be criminalized, even among those who agree with the Church’s teachings. Even as the debate continues, a number of states are acting quickly to limit or completely ban abortion. The legal, moral and political questions will continue to rage for many years.
Trinity students, faculty and staff have responded to a survey asking their opinions about the right to privacy and the abortion issue. Below are preliminary results from the survey, which is ongoing — final results will be published next week.
These are opinion survey results with answers from students, faculty and staff at Trinity; the results do not reflect Trinity’s official position which is in keeping with Church teachings, but it’s important for us to know what the community thinks about these difficult issues.
Question 1: The U.S. Constitution guarantees certain rights (such as freedom of speech and religion) but does not explicitly guarantee a right to privacy. Should there be a constitutional amendment to create an explicit right to privacy?
61% – YES
13% – NO
26% – MAYBE
“The right to privacy can easily be taken away by a Supreme Court ruling. It is imperative in these times all citizens be granted and guaranteed the right to it.”
“I think in the digital age when private data gets used, abused, stolen so frequently, having a Constitutional right to privacy will provide an additional layer of legal recourse for people to protect their information, identity, and individual freedom.”
“The right to privacy for human life in church and society should be spelled out, as it is a God-given right that each individual holds a ‘sanctum’, an ‘inner forum’ in choosing to act on moral objectives, and this right should be parallel to our Constitutional Rights and Amendments.”
“In theory, a right to privacy would seem like an obvious “yes.” In practice, however, determining what is “private” for such a right would be difficult even without the political and legal battles that would follow. Or perhaps it wouldn’t need to be. Could there be a right to personal privacy in all matters that are not an explicitly illegal act? Using abortion as an example, could internet search history be protected even if the abortion itself was punishable in a state? Unfortunately, the same would hold true for domestic terrorists plotting an attack where we know that internet history has been used to prevent murders. In some minds, these are the same. We know there are real challenges in determining what is protected with freedom of speech, for example. Privacy is a much more vague concept with inherently greater challenges.”
“The government is taking too many liberties with our private information.”
Question 2: In June 2022, in the Dobbs case, the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade that was the 1972 precedent protecting abortion rights. Roe was based on an interpretation of the Constitution’s implicit right to privacy. What is your opinion of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dobbs case?
“This ruling is a step backwards to women having the right to make choices about their own body. The constitution protects rights for freedoms; the freedom is the key, which means we have choices and now we have choices if we live in the right states, that’s not freedom as the constitution states.”
“The decision to make abortion illegal in federal and state law in the Dobbs case is an attempt to protect the fetus, yet it overrides the rights of the woman to make decisions based on her right to choose (and her right to privacy). For those who believe that the fetus and the mother hold equal rights to life, the decision not to abort is freely given and the woman can decline the right to an abortion. The choice is hers to make, preferably with medical advice in instances where complications exist. The Dobbs decision has removed the right to choose from women who, in pregnancy, decide to abort the fetus within her. It has been her choice for 50 years in the US, and yet, due to recent Supreme Court action, that right is thrown into question and removed from her options during a pregnancy that reveals complications or threats to the mother’s health. Dobbs removed privacy that women are accustomed to in these matters and places all agents surrounding abortion activity in line for sentencing and possibly jailtime for those participating in the (previously private) matter, including the neighbor who drives the woman to her appointment! This Dobbs decision feels so regressive in our time. We are made with rights- human rights- to safety, life, speech, happiness, prosperity, and adult decision-making. Let’s continue our Constitutional study about the right to privacy in American life.”
“People should be able to make medical decisions about their body, period.”
“I am a woman no other explanation needed.”
Questions 3 and 4 asked for additional comments about the right to privacy and the issue of abortion. Results:
13% said that abortion is a serious moral problem and should be limited
84% said that abortion is a personal choice that the law should not regulate
“Making abortions illegal will significantly affect underprivileged, low-income, and uneducated women, who need to have the right to choose, the most. Others with privilege will simply go to a state that still allows abortions, and return home unaffected by the lack of rights in their home state. I strongly support a federal law regarding abortion rights because when left on their own, states may do exactly what they are doing now. Think about if Civil Rights and workplace discrimination were still left up to the states to decide…injustices would be rampant. We all know how that would play out!”
“I understand that abortion is a religious and political conflict that many people have opinions about. My opinion is that God is the only being that has a right to judge us as human beings in the decisions we make. I personally do not like the idea of a fetus being aborted, but I also do not agree with stripping a person’s rights away. Everyone has a right to make their own decisions about themselves.”
“Abortion is only justified when it is necessary to save the life of the mother and it should be legal only in those cases.”
“Abortion is a MEDICAL decision between a woman [family] and her doctor. It is not any of my business what someone decides to do. What my personal religious belief are of no concern. God said do not judge so I try cast no judgement onto the decisions other people make for their life, especially the medical ones. In the medical field a miscarriage is called a spontaneous abortion because that is what it is. Currently woman are sitting in jail all around the country for having one. There is no medical test to tell the difference between a spontaneous abortion and an induced abortion. When you regulate one you regulate them all but the issue is you can never regulate them correctly. Someone always gets hurt and it’s women and children.”
“Abortion is a healthcare. Healthcare decisions should be made by a person and their doctor. Since the Court’s decision this summer, we have already heard of all kinds of health problems women are having getting healthcare – even women who are not having an abortion.”
“Although I personally believe abortion is wrong and that if you create a life, you are responsible for caring for it, I do not think the government has any business in this issue whatsoever. If women are free to choose abortion, then it protects our medical providers, it protects women who are victims of rape and abuse who for whatever reason are unable or unwilling to come forward with that information, it protects women who have miscarriages that otherwise might be under suspicion for having an abortion, and it protects women who have health complications that might not be spelled out in a law that states when abortion is ok. If a woman chooses to have an abortion under circumstances that I would consider to be morally wrong, that that is between her and God and He alone can pass judgement. It is not between her and government.”
“I worry about my daughter and my future children’s future. I pray to God everyday that my daughter and all my children will live a full healthy life and that no predator gets in the way of their future. The government needs to do better and I do not feel safe. The government in many ways feels like the predator.”
“Despite it’s imperfections and differences in interpretation, I think we are incredibly blessed to have a document that has protected so many of our freedoms and inspired similar documents that protect human rights and freedoms in countries around the world.”
“The Constitution should reflect the will of the people, not the politicians. Too bad everything is not a simple majority rules.”
“We should think about our Constitutional rights more than once a year, however, once a year is better than not at all…”
The survey is still open and this blog will be updated later in the week when the survey closes. Thanks to all for your participation.Continue reading →Read comments (0) Add Comment
I remember the day as if it happened just this morning. September 11, 2001. About 9:15 am I was in my office preparing for a staff meeting when Dr. Robert Preston, our provost back then, stopped by and asked if I heard the news that an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York. I immediately turned on the small black and white camper television I kept by my desk — we didn’t have the Internet then, no social media, no Twitter, not even a color TV in my office… no digital TV either, this was all old analog televison. I saw the news replaying the grainy image of an airplane flying into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. A sad accident, I assumed, and went on to the senior staff meeting. A few minutes after our meeting started, Trinity’s security chief rushed into the room to say that there were strong rumors of bombs in Washington. Everyone looked upset, and that was the end of our meeting. We decided to go to Social Hall where there was one relatively small color television. Students were gathering. We saw the second plane go into the other World Trade Center tower. We heard the Pentagon was hit. Suddenly Social Hall was packed and everyone started to feel panic — even me! It was 9:45 am and the world had changed suddenly, horrifically, in shocking ways. After a moment’s panic, I realized I had to do something constructive, so I asked everyone to sit down, remain calm, and we would work on finding out more. We opened all of the offices and told students they could use our phones to try to call their families — imagine all of this happening without cell phones, no email or texting. We continued to watch the news, horrified, but as time went on there was some small comfort being together in Social Hall. Our Trinity family was there for each other. We could not get much information except what we heard on that little TV in Social Hall, but it was enough to tell us that our nation had been attacked. Later on we would learn the appalling death toll, including members of our extended Trinity family, husbands and sons and daughters, a teacher who had been in our Continuing Ed program and her student. Random names now part of our collective sorrow.
Later that afternoon, as the crowd in Social Hall began to subside as students, faculty and staff started on their long journeys home, I went up to the 4th Floor of Main, and from the windows on the south end I could see the smoke rising from the Pentagon. I walked out on campus past the Trinity Center that was, at that time, just a few concrete pillars rising up from the construction site. I wondered if the building would ever be completed. I wondered how many other big projects and grand schemes were now interrupted, perhaps permanently.
The next day we gathered again in Social Hall to talk about what happened. A group of our conference guests — back then we had the Elderhostel program on campus, women and men in their retirement ears — regaled us with their story of being trapped in downtown DC blocks away from their bus and traffic at a standstill. Some of them were World War II veterans and they wondered if we were on the cusp of a new world war.
People under about Age 25 today might wonder why we keep telling the stories of September 11 over and over again. To them, our memories are as ancient as the memories my parents retold of Pearl Harbor or living through the Depression. Just as Millennials tire of the Boomers obsessively talking about Vietnam, so, too, Gen Z is not overly interested in September 11 (so some researchers tell us) — but they will tell the next generations of what it was like to live through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Historical memory is vitally important to shape the knowledge and responses of succeeding generations to the great challenges of our society. Just as the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 forced the United States out of isolation and into its destiny as a major power in World War II, so, too, the appalling acts of terrorism on September 11, 2001 forced this country to confront the long-simmering threat of terrorism and violence committed by rogue actors, as opposed to nation states.
September 11 also had a boomerang impact on our society that continues to haunt us today. After a period of national unity in the face of so much evil and destruction, the United States began to experience greater and greater domestic unrest and fragmentation. The rise of authoritarian threads in our political environment has roots in the reaction to the 9/11 terrorism. After that evil day, we readily gave up a number of freedoms in our quest for more security — the surveillance state became normal, and the growth of authoritarianism was a natural result of our collective submission to governmental control.
The damage of September 11 was not just measured in the destruction of more than 3,000 lives and so many buildings. The real damage continues today in the fear and suspicion that course through our nation, and in the ways that demagogues foment the fear and suspicion to gain power. Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 mastermind, may be dead, but the long tentacles of his evil plot continue to torment us.
We must remember so that we can understand our present challenges, so that we can find solutions to repair the damage. If we forget, if we ignore or repress the past, we will never be free of the evil DNA left as so much toxic dust to infect this nation. As we remember, let us redouble our efforts to make sure that we reclaim and enlarge those freedoms that are the best antidote to terror and tyranny.Continue reading →Read comments (0) Add Comment
Here’s the link to the slide deck we presented in the Campus Conversation on Student Loans:
A bit of data and information up front as you read this essay: Trinity strives to keep college affordable, with tuition levels that are much lower than other private universities and very generous financial aid packages. But having said that, we are well aware that our students have to take out loans —- very few private loans, most are federal loans — and loans can create great hardships. We also know that many Trinity students are in college to earn degrees required to enter licensed professions: nursing, early childhood education, occupational therapy, public health, counseling — and all of our students want their degrees to be able to enter professional positions and move up into decision-making positions in management, as well as having the lifelong intellectual growth and satisfaction that a great higher education fosters. Trinity students know that a great college education is essential to continue the quest for racial and social equity in their lives, and for the sake of their children and families. But we know that our students also labor under the cost burden of college.
In our racial equity statement known as Trinity DARE, we have made a specific commitment to raise money to reduce or eliminate student loans since women, women of color, and Black women in particular carry the highest student loan debt burdens in the country. Trinity’s overall student debt profile looks like this:
- Average undergraduate student debt at graduation or upon leaving Trinity: $22,000
- Average graduate student debt at graduation or upon leaving Trinity: $59,000
- Overall average student debt: $29,000
- About 5,000 Trinity graduates and former students are in the repayment system for federal loans.
- About 26% have loans of less than $10,000
- About 43% have loans of less than $20,000
We are trying to get more refined data, but what those numbers tell us right now is that a substantial proportion of our current borrowers in repayment will realize significant relief from the Biden Administration’s Student Debt Relief Plan, and many Trinity borrowers may be able to wipe the slate clean through the various loan forgiveness plans.
Final note: the Biden Administration is promising to release specifics about how to apply for the debt relief paydown in October. Meanwhile, we urge all borrowers to review the information on the Federal Student Aid website and we will continue to provide more information and instructions on email.
Student Debt Relief Plan and Controversy
Last week, President Biden announced his long-anticipated plan for student loan debt relief, and immediately critics from all sides pounced on the plan, some on the left saying it was not enough, most on the right bitterly complaining about how it was so “unfair” as if no government subsidies ever before benefited some citizens but not others.
Particularly aggravating are the journalists who do not seem to know any people who might actually be worthy of the Biden plan.
It’s a “regressive, expensive mistake” harrumphed the Washington Post Editorial Board, saying that the plan will “…provide a windfall for those who don’t need it.”
Other presumably well-educated, privileged pundits echoed this sentiment — ignoring the fact that the majority of borrowers suffering under oppressive levels of student loan debt are women of modest means, and particularly Black women who carry the highest student loan debt in the country — and who suffer chronic race and gender discrimination in employment, meaning that even if they are hired into major for-profit corporations, their earnings are likely to be far less than white men; and often, women and women of color pursue degrees so that they can work in modestly paid licensed professions as teachers, counselors, social workers and healthcare professionals. For too many borrowers, the student loan system winds up adding debt to their pile through mounting interest rates over time, compounding the cost of the loans and making it impossible to borrow for other life needs such as buying a home or a new car.
Some critics complained (with elaborate economic models to demonstrate the rightness of their righteous anger) that the plan would make inflation worse, as if every student loan borrower was going to take the $10,000 relief and rush to Amazon to buy more stuff. Seriously, it doesn’t work that way! Reducing loan debt means that borrowers will pay less over time, but there are no “loan stimulus” checks about to hit mailboxes! What a lower debt payment really means for millions of stressed-out borrowers is that they might be able to pay their monthly bills all at the same time, not putting them on a little carousel to decide what to pay this month or next month, or maybe put a little something into savings for the first time in a long time. I have to wonder if editorial writers who talk about the “windfall for those who don’t need it” have talked to any teachers recently about the mis-match between what it cost them to get and stay licensed, and to equip their classrooms (often on their own dimes, er, dollars) compared to their rates of pay.
What Are Trinity Students Saying About Student Loan Debt Relief?
In order to get some real life perspective on the student loan debt reduction debate, I asked Trinity students to tell me what the Biden plan means to them. Trinity students don’t hold back! Their comments:
Kelsey Henderson, SPS Senior, Business Administration:
I would like to recall to mind that Biden said he would get rid of all student loans. I understand we have to start somewhere; I hope this plan is not the solution but the start to eliminating all student loans. However, if this is the solution I suppose something is better than nothing. Lastly, politicians should be held accountable for the promises made while running for office. These promises aided in their election and as you can see from the backlash and countless memes we have not forgotten!
Shandale Scott, SPS Senior, Human Relations:
President Biden’s loan forgiveness plan will assist numerous students in minimizing their debt. His initiative to address this issue will help many become financially prepared in fixing their credit, purchasing property, starting their own businesses, or just having more discretionary income to enjoy their earnings. Student loan debt has been an issue for quite some time and it has overwhelmed many students in choosing whether or not to pursue higher education because of the expenses associated with tuition, housing, and books and supplies. Individuals who qualify for the student loan debt relief and repayment plans can take this opportunity as a way to rebuild and restart their financial goals.
Although this is a great plan to help many Americans with their student loan debt, I believe the underlying issue as to why so many had to go in debt in the first place is the problem at stake. America is one of the richest countries in the world. With that being said, anyone who is low-income or needs additional financial assistance to pursue higher education to experience the perception of the “American Dream”, should not have to borrow thousands and thousands of dollars to do so. Education is heavily stressed within our society but various government officials fail to allocate adequate funding to colleges and universities in need of assisting its students. College education should be affordable for all to bridge the gap among all socioeconomic groups to eliminate educational disparities
Donko Kaka, CAS, Senior, Biology:
I personally disagree with the commentators who suggested that students should pay all the loans back. Students that don’t have wealthy parents are doing above and beyond to change their lives as well as their families. Reducing their loans is a form of equity. These students will also benefit the country with their degree. Its a win win situation.
Stephanie Thomas Foo, SPS Sophomore, JAMS:
“What came first? The chicken or the egg?” Or how I view this country’s student loan debt: I am a 35 year old undergrad student who has lived through 3 recessions. The 2001 recession following the Y2K hysteria, the 2007-2009 housing crisis, and the 2020 recession caused by the covid-19 pandemic. Each of the before-mentioned recessions was rescued using government funds through “recovery” acts to save banks and lenders. It’s not surprising to me that elitists who benefited from these recession bailouts that helped recover their pensions are turning their noses up to a student loan forgiveness program. Federal student aid/loans can arguably be considered one of the most predatory lending practices in the world. Most students graduate and are not eligible for jobs to cover $50,000 worth of the student loan debt most undergrad recipients are in post-graduation. Again, what came first? The systemic practice of unaffordable degree programs that are now the basic requirements to any decent job/career, or the inability to pay back the loans? We’re forced to chase higher education and unfortunately the debt is connected to the finish line.
Felicia Johnson, NHP Graduate Student, Counseling:
I graduated [from college] back in 1998. I have been paying my student loans off and on since… Because of the forbearances, deferments, and interest, I owe much more than the principal loan. I believe that I have paid off the principal but the fees and interest keep the balance astronomically high. Since graduating I have been an officer in the Commission Corps working in the prison system, a contractor for DOD/ military, a contractor with a non-profit, and worked with homeless communities. Every time I look into loan forgiveness programs there is always some glitch that causes individuals like me to be unqualified or disapproved. Let’s not forget how they contact you and offer some kind of debt consolidation that would lower your interest rates and then when the company changes the interest rates go through the roof causing more debt. I have talked with many of my peers and we all believe that we are only paying the interest and fees to the banks. Nothing that I have paid or my peers have paid is going towards the principal. I believe I will go to my grave in student loan debt. The whole student loan industry is a ripoff. The American public bailed out the banks and the automobile industry I do not understand why all student loan debt can be forgiven. If not anything else I believe students should only pay back the principal of the loan, with no fees or interest.
Janet Platt, SPS Senior, JAMS:
I can only imagine people who criticize were able to pay for college tuition out of their pockets! Not all have that privilege. I know people with master’s and doctoral degrees making under $100K barely making it. Yet we take out all this student debt. Wealth should be spread around for everyone to be able to support themselves and their families. And the very cost of college is outrageous, which is why some choose to skip it altogether to be costly.
I am a working Senior who’s worked in management but was paid pennies for lack of a degree, so I returned to school to better support myself and now my 7 yr old daughter.
This would be a financial relief for many who have strived to live the American dream of comfort in knowing you can support yourself at such a high cost. Land of the free is an understatement when it only applies to the rich, and it’s is not dispersed in equity. And education is part of that. People are struggling to pay these loans off. Yes, I am overjoyed. I’m running out of money and I’m a newly FTE employee of the Federal Government. Yes, we deserve every penny of it. Give the working class people a break. Please don’t punish us any longer!
Kathi McMillan, SPS First Year, Health Services:
I think it’s an excellent plan for some of our community because most people have been paying on their student loans for years and haven’t even put a dent in it. If you ask me, I think college education should be free for every American in the United States.
Grace Assengone, CAS First Year, Psychology:
During his presidential campaign, our president, Joe Biden made multiple promises to us. One that we were all looking forward to was his student loans debts forgiveness plan. It is a well known fact that the majority of people who have earned a degree find themselves buried in thousands and thousands of student loans debts by the time they are done with their education. Even though there is no guarantee that their degrees will get them a well paying job, most people believe that it is still worth a shot. Biden’s plan to forgive student loan debts will be extremely helpful to many, especially those people who put in the work and rightfully earned their degree but have no jobs, or those people who did not get to finish their education because the financial strain was too much, even the ones who are knee deep in debts with absolutely no degree. All these people were ripped off by the American educational system which forces you to take out thousands of dollars in student loans that have to be repaid some time after you earn your degree. No where do these loans guarantee a degree or a well paying job. Even those people who are lucky enough and are able to put their degree to use by earning a well paying job still find themselves in great amounts of debts that take them years to fully pay off. Joe Biden’s student loan debt forgiveness program is his way of relieving degree seekers from their extreme financial hardship as well as giving people access to less financially draining education. Biden will forever be remembered for the great president that he is. It is refreshing to see a president who not only cares for his country but also the people in it. I believe I speak for everyone when I say that president Biden is lifting a huge weight off our shoulders by temporarily or permanently relieving us of our student loan debt.
Kimberlyn Booker, SPS First Year, Early Childhood Education:
I think that it’s a start and can be very helpful to a lot of people. Yes, it would be awesome if he cancels the student loan debt for all like he promised, but this is a starting point. Hopefully he can find it in the US budget to cancel all student loans very soon. Until then, we should be happy that some of us are getting something.
Tina Nelson, SPS Sophomore, Health Services:
The President’s plan to reduce student loans is important to me. I disagree with the commentators expressing that people who take out student loans should have to pay them all back. People should not be left in financial debt because we want to broaden our career opportunities by pursuing a college degree. It is important to me to receive my degree for greater career opportunities. I have been in the workforce for years and I am not able to maximize my career due to not having a college degree. College helps people to expand their choices. Unfortunately, receiving higher education is a penalty for some people because they cannot provide fully for themselves or family once they graduate from college due to owing so much money. Education should be a ticket to a better life, not a punishment.
Ruth Appiah, CAS, Senior, Business Administration:
I think this plan is great because it will be very hard for me to pay my loans. My mum is not feeling well and not working! This will help me a lot. I will be the happiest person on earth if this happens.
Penelope Placide, SPS Junior, Business Administration:
President Biden’s current actions to forgive $10,000 for student loans is a significant first step. However, when running for office he stated that he intends to eliminate all student loan debt. As a current student and first-generation college attendee, this issue is very personal and significant. Being part of the lower class, for the longest time furthering my education didn’t seem like an option. Coming out of higher education without a large amount of debt would be the beginning of an almost equal opportunity to be successful, without the burden of debt and stress. As a student, I’m waiting for all student loan debt to be forgiven. The current setup for higher education in The United States clearly demonstrates that success is deemed for those who can afford a good education and, those who cannot are automatically set up for failure. I am glad to see President Biden taking steps towards his goal but, expect more and hope to see him follow through on his promise.
Nicole Lopez, CAS Sophomore, Psychology:
Speaking from the perspective of an international student who cannot apply for the FAFSA or other types of aid, only private scholarships from Trinity and other non-profit entities. I agree with Biden’s Plan for the simple fact that studying should not be a lifelong monetary martyrdom, college, beyond being an option, is a privilege that most students want to have. Biden is thinking of those students who, despite not having enough money, decided to take a risk and study with a future of debt, Biden is making student life a little more accessible and supporting education.
Stephanie Salinas, SPS Sophomore, Human Relations:
I believe that President Biden’s plan to make some student debt relief a reality will help a lot of individuals and families. I know that it is not what he had promised going into his presidency, but it is some form of help. This could be one step closer to what he had initially promised.
Markeyda Harper, SPS Sophomore, Early Childhood Education:
I believe he once said the whole loan was going to be forgiven and now its just 10,000. I believe he should have never spoke on the loan forgiveness if he was going to take back what he said. 10,000 is a start and yes it can help most people.
Tracy Taylor, SPS Sophomore, Early Childhood Education:
I am not only shocked but can’t even begin to understand how students with “astronomical” student debt feel. We all want to become successful in life or even just to have more opportunities due to more education but to make a promise to cancel or eliminate all student debt then pick the lowest amount to cover is awful. I will say that though I am not agreeing with the amount Biden has agreed to “eliminate”, I guess some elimination is better than none. I pray better days ahead!
Anonymous, CAS Sophomore:
I am a sophomore at Trinity and I have had an entire journey to get where I am today. I work hard just to pay for what I need and I am in the process of getting financial aid. I say all of that to say I am in no financial position to pay off my loans or even pay for school if I wanted to. I appreciate the president’s efforts to contribute to our student loans but why get our hopes up in saying you will completely get rid of student loans if that was intangible? I do not follow politics because it gives me a lot of anxiety but I listened to him when he said that and my first thought was, “this sounds way too good to be true, I would need to see it to believe it” and once again not discrediting his efforts I just wished he did not make promises not knowing if it would be possible. Its just disappointing to everyone who dependent on that promise becoming a reality.
Anonymous, SPS Student:
I think that President Biden’s plan to reduce the student debt for some Americans is great. However, I believe that because of his campaign promise it would be amazing if he could have done $10,000 for all Americans,but I do understand why he made this final decision. The decision to forgive $10,000 for some Americans and $20,000 for the most vulnerable households speaks volumes. It will definitely give the Americans that received the student loan forgiveness a lot of relief and their households will benefit from it for years to come. I am actually one of those Americans, and it will definitely help me in the future.
The Extended Pause on Loan Repayment is another helpful incentive as it gives Americans more time and relief before the repayment starts. I am sure they are benefiting by being able to spend that money on other things especially with the inflation in our country. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness is actually better than the reduction of student debt. I am a DC Government employee and we were advised of this option for public student loan forgiveness. However, I do think that this has always been an option, but President Biden allowed more flexibility for this forgiveness.
Income-based Repayment Plan is another awesome option. It is clear that President Biden has kept his campaign promise and is trying his best to accommodate everyone. If you did not qualify for the Reduction of Debt it is clear that he made sure other options were available to the middle class which he believed needed it the most. Since I have been following politics it seems as if the middle class sometimes get left out, but it’s clear that today is a new day. I can’t wait to see what’s next from our President.
Anonymous, SPS Student:
I think it’s a good start and I hope that many students can enjoy this benefit, and I also understand that everyone is saying “I wish is more” …
Anonymous, SPS Student:
Once I had the opportunity to read more on what the plan entailed, I thought that it was a start and good that the President wanted to offer us something. The only thing that confused me a little was the fact that he stated during his campaign, one of his goals once entering office would be to get rid of all student loan debt. On the other hand, I do understand the hurdles he has to overcome due to the criticizers, not agreeing with him on giving students anything. As I stated before, it is a start and hopefully we will be on track of receiving more and all loans will be forgiven.
What Does a Trinity Economist Say About the Biden Plan?
Dr. Dennis Farley, Economics Program Chair, offered these observations:
My initial take on the Biden Plan is favorable. Politically, it’s a smart move. It shows that he is not completely stymied by the Republicans in the Senate in achieving something useful. It is one more thing Democrats can run on in November. It is not connected to Donald Trump.
Economically, it could have a small effect in making fiscal policy more effective. The whole point of expansionary fiscal policy (tax cuts or government spending increases) is to boost the disposable income of households. With more disposable income, households will spend more on consumption, thereby raising GDP in the short run.
When households have large debt burdens, however, increases in disposable income tend to get siphoned into debt repayment rather than into increased consumption. Fiscal policy becomes less powerful in moving GDP back toward some desired level. My guess is that the improvement in the potency of fiscal policy will be very small, but at least it’s in the right direction.
[I asked Dr. Farley to comment on some of the criticisms that the plan is inflationary. His response:]
I don’t see the inflationary effect as large. It will be swamped by whatever the Fed does. I further think (and this is an opinion, not an economic analysis) that we should be subsidizing people to go to college.
…By itself, however, more debt is not inflationary. It can be if the Fed decides to buy the debt and print money to pay for the purchase. But the Fed is not doing that right now. It is moving in the other direction to tighten monetary policy to fight inflation.
The economic arguments are not the powerful ones here; the political arguments are.
- Debt relief mollifies the left-wing of the Democratic party to keep them in the fold and minimize sniping ahead of the mid-terms…
- Debt relief retains votes among center and center-right Democrats who were wondering “What have you done for me lately?” and could have been seduced away by independent, or even reasonable-sounding Republican candidates…
- Regarding the “class warfare” argument that the Post editorial made, there is very little downside to the President’s actions. Trumpism has a stranglehold on non-college educated males….