Student organizers spread the word on student debt abolition at a resource fair for USF’s new Student Debt Initiative in Privett Plaza. The Nov. 15 event was part of a week-long fair sponsored by San Francisco Rising (SFR), an alliance of eight different grassroots organizations with a shared mission of racial justice, voter education, and support for leaders of color. The USF Student Debt initiative, a USF specific SFR branch, holds bi-monthly meetings to discuss financial issues facing students.
Student representatives answered questions about debt while attendees worked on a collaborative, community mural that read “Education Justice.” Anika Becker is a student organizer with SFR and is currently leading the initiative. “People don’t know that globally [students] have 1.9 trillion worth in debt. The average borrower has something like $37,000,” they said.
“Our intention is just to bring data to the forefront and show students that, ‘Hey, you’re not alone,’ and show the administration that students are suffering from the rising tuition that [they] keep putting on us.”
Natalya Bomani, a recent graduate who currently serves as membership lead at SFR, said, “We don’t like that the dominant narrative around student debt is this idea of debt forgiveness. At SF rising, we really believe in the idea of debt abolition because it’s just rooted in the fact that education is a human right and no one is at fault for taking money out to go to school.”
Student debt forgiveness is the act of releasing borrowers of their financial obligation to pay back federal student loans. Student debt abolition, which SFR advocates for, instead calls on the complete cancellation of the student loan industry. Complete student debt abolition is part of a larger movement that would require the higher education system to eliminate the financial need to take out loans to get an education.
Becker, a fourth-year politics major, emphasized the importance of changing the narrative around student debt. Becker said that the ‘‘forgiveness’ narrative assumes that student debt is the student’s responsibility, rather than a systemic flaw. “The specific use of abolition helps stop individualizing this issue. It really gets at the fact that we are all experiencing this crisis together.”
At the event, organizers provided students with fact sheets about SFR’s mission that directed them to the organization’s website to find statistics about student loans dates for upcoming events.
Bomani and Becker spoke with USF students about navigating student debt and listened to their stories. “What really stood out to me was the lack of knowledge surrounding specifically the changes that have happened with the Biden relief application,” Bomani said.
Biden’s student debt relief plan, an initiative to cancel $10,000 to $20,000 in student loans for eligible borrowers, is currently facing legal complications. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked the bill for the time being due to an injunction from six different Republican states that claim Biden has overextended his executive authority.
“We were informing students that there’s been a court order halting the process for students to have their applications processed, a lot of students were confused but not necessarily surprised,” Bomani said, “It was pretty like disheartening to see, like people being sad that their applications can’t be passed, but also not shocked to see this administration not really using its executive authority to circumvent that court order.”
Elizabeth Nicole, a second-year psychology major, was one of the event’s attendees. “I know I have accumulated a significant amount of student debt already, but I am not super aware of the different nuances of the student loan industry and have admittedly left a lot of it up to my parents,” she said. “I’m glad that on campus resources like this exist so that I can change that.”
Nicole said that she appreciated hearing from other students. “Debt and money are very daunting subjects to me, it’s certainly much easier to hear about this sort of thing from people my age who have experience and are looking out for their fellow students.”
In order to further the mission of San Francisco Rising and continue fighting the more pervasive issue of student debt, Bomani and Becker said they need all hands on deck. SFR offers an annual summer fellowship, a six week program where students attend political educational workshops. “We teach you how to canvas around the neighborhood, we talk to our neighbors and just build community, we have a lot of fun at community building events,” explained Bomani.
While the resource fair is the final on campus event hosted by the USF initiative branch for the semester, Bomani and Becker said the organization plans to continue hosting events in the spring to increase student awareness. In the meantime, students can visit @usfca.debt.abolition on Instagram or SFR’s website to get involved.
Jordan DelFiugo is a second-year psychology major and a general assignment reporter for the Foghorn. She can be reached at email@example.com.