Black Joy

What Bennett College debt cancelation means to three HBCU women

Student loan debt cancelation is a dream for many people but is now a reality for Black women at one historically Black college.

The Debt Collective, a debt-elimination advocacy group, and their Rolling Jubilee Fund partnered to cancel $1.7 million in student debt for former Bennett College students, a private women’s HBCU in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Braxton Brewington, press secretary of the Debt Collective, told USA TODAY that they chose Bennett College, an institution founded in 1873 with an enrollment of 232 students because Black women on average have higher student loan balances than any other group of borrowers.

While the debt wasn’t from student loans, 462 Bennett Belle students with accounts dating back as far as 1996 have had their past tuition costs, unpaid parking tickets, or overdue library fees to the college erased. This financial burden prevented many from accessing their transcripts, credits and diploma from Bennett College because of a policy on overdue accounts.

This recent debt cancelation has placed even more pressure on President Joe Biden as some young voters who showed up at the polls for him are frustrated by the lack of action he expressed during his campaign around the cancelation of federal student loan debt, and from private HBCUs and minority-serving institutions.

“These are the people that are really taking the brunt of the student debt crisis,” Brewington told USA TODAY.

Biden has extended the pause on student loans until August 31 and has confirmed that he will make a decision on relief and forgiveness in the coming weeks.

Reckon spoke with a few Bennett Belles about how this debt cancelation affects them.

What does student debt cancelation mean to you and your future?

Domanique Scott, 2015 graduate from Bennett College with more than $5,000 of student debt

It gives me the opportunity to finish what I started.

Atoya Turrentine, a current Bennett College student with more than $21,000 of student debt

Being able to not have that debt opens up so much for my daughter and me, I’ll be able to provide on the level we both deserve now that I’ll have a degree under my belt and more opportunities for me and her. Also, this allows me to show my daughter to never give up no matter what and that you can achieve anything if you keep pressing forward.

Amber Wike, a former Bennett College student with more than $17,000 of student debt

The debt cancelation makes life easier, gives me more control over my finances, and lifts a huge burden.

What’s your HBCU story? Why did you choose to get your education from Bennett College?

Scott

I knew I would always feel comfortable at an HBCU. I started high school at an all-girls school in Baltimore, and when I told my guidance counselor I was moving to Greensboro, she shared how she graduated from Bennett College and that I should check it out. I thought it was the most ridiculous idea! Until I spent the night at Bennett and fell in love with the small college atmosphere and the sisterhood.

Turrentine

I had never heard of Bennett College, but a woman from the alumni chapter in California recruited my parents and me. We were so impressed with the college, especially because I have always wanted to attend an HBCU, and it just so happened that Bennett would be the perfect fit for me. I fell in love with it as soon as I stepped on campus. It was actually one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Wike

Representation is important and Bennett College represented a unique experience for me as a Black woman. I wanted to have an experience where I could be around other people who understood what it was like to navigate through racism and sexism.

What was your first reaction when you found out your debt to Bennett College was being canceled?

Scott

I was shocked. The idea of a debt that big just disappearing sounded too good to be true.

Turrentine

When I found out my debt was forgiven, I was in pure shock. My emotions were all over the place, I cried all day. I was just so thankful that I could finally finish what I started.

Because I haven’t graduated yet. During my senior year, I became pregnant and left Greensboro to go back home to have my daughter.

My student debt accumulated to more than $21,000, so after completing four years of college and only having two semesters left with such a huge balance, I was not able to obtain my transcripts to transfer to a local university to finish my degree.

So hopefully, I’ll be able to return to Bennett College online in the fall to finally finish my degree.

Wike

I was in shock, but overall extremely grateful. I also felt a sense of regret. I might have stayed at Bennett College (instead of transferring) if it wasn’t for their private school tuition fees.

What’s something you want President Biden and other government officials to know about why student loan debt cancelation is important?

Scott

It gives those who need a second chance the opportunity to complete what is still a life goal for many of us. It takes the stress and worries off our spirits. It gives us hope for a future that is not tainted by the idea of paying these loans off for the rest of our lives.

Wike

If you want a better society, making mental health and education more accessible is mandatory; this would allow people to better themselves and their community.

The Reckon Report.
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