Student Loan Relief and the Value of Black Student Life

By Itunu Sofidiya

No one has ever doubted that White lives matter. That message has been made abundantly clear and is engraved in the minds of all Americans. The issue is do people realize that Black lives matter? Do they value blackness at all? Whether the answer was made overtly, via slavery and Jim Crow laws, or covertly, via wage disparities, discrimination, and media signaling, America continues to undervalue the Black experience. Unfortunately, this wanton disregard for the value of Black lives also rears its ugly head in the form of higher education student loan debt. 

I recently got into a heated debate with a White man about the “fairness” of student loan debt relief. He was almost enraged at the thought of someone not having to pay back student loan debt in its entirety (plus years of interest), despite the fact that he didn’t have any student loan debt himself.  When I asked him if the White business owners who had loans for millions completely forgiven, or if the current tax systems that allow the wealthiest members of society to pay less in taxes than the “middle class” also made him upset, he was eerily silent. That was until he stated, in his words, that they were “helping the economy”. I thought to myself, I wonder if he has this same energy about “fairness” when Black women are paid less to do more work than their White counterparts. Or when a Black person is pulled over by a police officer simply because of the color of their skin. I won’t lie and pretend that all of this doesn’t frustrate me. However, I think my frustration comes from not only my personal experiences as a Black woman, but also from that of my students. I see how hard they work to support themselves and their families, and being confronted by a person who had no empathy for them hurts. This conversation made me start evaluating the impact that student loan debt has on Black people and how it reflects America’s views on the importance of Black lives. 

A recent article in Forbes by Janice Gassam Asare[1] described student loan debt cancellation as a racial justice issue.  She states that “part of restoring and rehabilitating our country from its racist past requires understanding the ways that historical harms have and continue to marginalize different communities. Student loan debt is a huge impediment for much of the American population and has the most harmful impact on Black women borrowers.” 

The disparities in the amount of student loan debt that African- Americans accrue when pursuing an undergraduate degree, far outweighs that of their White peers. According to[2] , Black and African American college graduates owe an average of $25,000 more in student loan debt than White college graduates.  Additionally, four years after graduation, 48% of Black students owe an average of 12.5% more in student loan debt than they initially borrowed; and are the most likely to struggle financially due to student loan debt, with 29% making monthly payments of $350 or more.

These statistics become even more discouraging when Black students attend law school. Unfortunately, just as with undergraduate student loans, student loan debt disproportionately affects students traditionally from underrepresented backgrounds in the legal community, especially Black students. Fifteen percent of law school students and just five percent of practicing lawyers are Black or African American. Despite the underwhelming representation of black people in the legal profession, they still carry a lot more of the financial burden of student loan debt. Black or African American law school graduates’ loan debts are 97% higher on average than white law school graduates.

On average, white law school graduates owe 17% less than the average law school student debt. Honestly these are some of the very reasons that the Law Librarian profession has a lack of diversity. When students are already inundated with student loan debt, they are far less likely to enter a profession which typically requires three degrees, but often does not pay enough for a person trying to survive with one degree.

Thus, the issues surrounding student loan debt don’t merely affect the borrowers financially, but their career paths, families, and ultimately their life choices. Student loan debt is an access to justice issue and a racial equity issue. It prevents people from starting families, purchasing real estate and entering certain professions. It also continues to keep a huge divide in the legal community and in the law librarian community. Until more is done to alleviate student loan debt, there will continue to be huge diversity gaps in the legal profession, and the outrage surrounding student loan debt relief continues to prove that Americans still need to be reminded that Black lives matter.

Asare, Janice Gassam.  “Why Student Loan Debt Cancellation Is A Racial Justice Issue”, November 7, 2022,

Hanson, Melanie. “Average Law School Debt”, November 7, 2022,

Hanson, Melanie. “Average Law School Debt”, November 7, 2022,


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.