Blocking of Student Debt Relief Must Lead to the Path of Much Much Wider Reform

student debt

No doubt millions of indebted students in the USA are deeply disappointed by the eagerly awaited Supreme Court verdict which has now blocked the relief on student debt earlier announced by the government. However as they recover from this rather shocking news, in due course students must reflect on this issue more deeply to realize the urgent need for much wider reform.

While this wider reform will certainly provide great relief to students from the burden of indebtedness—now and in future—this reform will aim also for higher goals of providing students adequate space for exercising life and livelihood choices which are in keeping with their yearnings for a world based on peace, justice and protection of environment.

The initial response is likely to be along the lines of—President Biden tried to fulfill his election promise by announcing steps that were probably not strong enough legally and so were blocked by courts, and so the authorities should have a Plan B ready to bring more legally effective methods for providing relief. In fact such pleas were being made before even the Supreme Court verdict came, keeping in view the likelihood of an adverse decision. One does not know to what extent the government has a Plan B ready, much less how much more effective it will be. However there is a clear need to look it more as a systems failure.  As this writer had argued in an earlier article titled ‘Unjust systems want student debts to continue forever’, it is quite possible for two wings of the establishment to function to such a way that an illusion of relief rather than real relief is given, to keep alive hope in the system and to score some points when elections approach. From a more systems perspective, what is more likely is that the establishment wants student debts to remain because these keep students and youth running after the establishment for opportunities of some quick earning to pay back debts, regardless of the fact that in the process they may be torn apart from their real, deeper yearnings for becoming participants in the struggles and efforts for creating a world based on peace, justice and environment protection.

It is an important need of young people to be engaged in creative and exciting ways in those tasks which appear to them to be most essential and desirable. Many young people by their nature and instinct are very favorably inclined towards helping those who are victims of various injustices and need help to reduce their distress. College education equips youth to have a better understanding of these injustices and their causes, increasing the possibility that they can begin to challenge the systems responsible for this. This is precisely what the leadership of unjust systems wants to discourage students from doing, and student debts are helpful in such efforts of discouragement.

However when the most natural and creative paths are denied to the idealism of the young and they are pushed in other directions which may be quite different from (and in fact may be even the opposite of) their heartfelt calling, this can lead to acute frustration, mental stress and substance abuse.

While issues like mental stress and substance abuse among college youth have been widely discussed, linkages of these to such systemic failures have not received proper and adequate attention.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in year 2021 in the age-group 18-25 as many as 33.7 per cent of US youth were affected by ‘Any Mental Illness’ (AMI) while 11.4 per cent were affected by ‘Serious Mental Illness’ (SMI)—so defined as to indicate serious functional impairment of important life activities.

Nearly 80% of US college youth consume alcohol to a lesser or greater extent, and nearly 50% among these indulge in binge drinking. There is an increasing tendency among them to consume more hard drinks, and to drink more heavily to get drunk. Nearly 600,000 are injured every year in unintentional injuries under the influence of alcohol, while a little less than 2000 die in this way. Nearly 600,000 to 700,000 are injured in assaults under the influence of alcohol in campuses. While nearly 24% of female and 7% of male students experience sexual assault in college, in almost half the cases the influence of alcohol or drugs on the part of the perpetrator and/or the victim is involved. Nearly 150,000 youth are affected in a year by serious health problems due to alcohol. Nearly 20 per cent of college youth meet the criteria of having an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Nearly 12 million youth in age-group 18-25 have used drugs in the previous month, almost the same number have indulged in binge drinking. 4,777 US youth die in a year due to overdose of illicit drug use.

Hence once creative outlets for idealism are increasingly blocked, the resulting frustrations can cause immense distress among youth. Clearly the struggle must not be just a limited one for just cancellation of student debts, but in addition this struggle must also be for the much broader objective of providing youth the necessary spaces for living their life in accordance with their heartfelt commitments for a world based on peace, justice and protection of environment .

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children, Planet in Peril and Man over Machine—A Path to Peace.

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