My Student Debt Story – At the Intersections of Rape, Class, and Money

I read Natalia’s own story about student debt and it got me mad. It reminded me of my own story and I thought I could share to show why good sexual assault policies matter. How rape changes lives. Why schools need to act responsibly and be held accountable for their reaction to rape survivors. The impact can go way beyond academics.

Setting the stage.

I was fortunate enough to be able to go to prep school for grades 8 through 12. My family did not pay full tuition; I was one of those A Better Chance alums who got a good education thanks to a good dose of financial aid. I struggled during those years (what adolescent doesn’t?!) I worked hard and got into 8 of the 9 schools to which I applied.

I remember when I got my acceptance letter – and scholarship offer – from Tufts University. It was spring break of senior year and I excitedly ran around the house alone with the letter in hand. Unfortunately, even with the financial aid + scholarship we had to take out some loans. This is where we made some decisions that would bite us in the ass years later:

  • we used Tufts’ preferred lender (which didn’t mean much for us);
  • the preferred lender was a bank, which means all the rules I read (and improvements that Obama has implemented) about federal student loans do not apply to me;
  • we took out a PLUS loan – so it was really my dad’s loan, meaning his credit takes a hit, which hurts not only me, but my family – my mom, my sister, myself.

Now I went to a high school that was more than $20,000/year per girl (yes it was an all girls’ school). Our college counselors helped us get into college. Not so much pay for college. As being a first generation American, we did not have many resources to know how to make it all work. At our prep school you just went to expensive schools. Because it was the thing you did. Because it was worth it.

Rape and abuse on a college campus.

I got involved with an individual who was great at psychological torture and not knowing the meaning of consent. My stellar academic record that helped me get into great schools was dashed. For years I struggled not knowing why I couldn’t JUST CONCENTRATE or just NOT BE SCARED to walk around campus.

I finally figured out that, hey, abuse and rape aren’t cool. And they obviously are illegal and must be against school rules. Let me report to the school what happened.

That didn’t go over with them so well. They refused to hear my judicial complaint or offer academic help or any type of concrete support.

Then they expelled me.

The apathy of an academic institution.

So it took a lot to even summon the courage to tell the story of what I’ve gone through. To not only to get my rape and emotional and physical abuse ignored (I was apparently deemed “crazy” by the Student Affairs office), but to also lose the last thing that mattered to me. It was hard. And lucky me – the recession started really hitting.

I knew what happened to me was wrong, but that didn’t change the school’s mind. It didn’t make the Department of Education work any more quickly to respond to my Title IX complaint. It didn’t make the people who gave me my loans any more lenient.

The aftermath.

Taking into account for interest, I have about $100,000 in student debt from my time at a school that told me my rape didn’t matter. That it wasn’t true and my body wasn’t worth it. I basically am a college dropout with no degree, tons of debt, black, female, and no job.

The lovely bank ONLY gives a 6 month forbearance (even if you’re having financial difficulty! They dont care! Poor? Unemployed? Raped? You’re just shit out of luck!) and they defaulted my loan December 23, 2010. Merry-fucking-Christmas. Mind you, I had spoken to many representatives of the lovely bank. I told them I was going back to school Jan 2011. They said that would be okay and they would be able to hold off on the default. Apparently not.

The point of this? I want to share that rape has very real consequences. This is beyond PTSD – beyond depression – beyond getting triggered if a male raises his voice at me. This is a very real scenario that could hurt my chances of getting my own place to live (if I ever get a job, harr harr) and maybe even threaten the home I share with my parents.

Reminders of rape subsequent survivor guilt.

I get multiple calls a day from the bank. These are like multiple phone calls that remind me (hey! you! You got raped and couldn’t handle it like a wuss and now you’re paying for it! Literally!) I tell them I’ve been a full-time student all year, but the loan is in collections and we can “set up payments” except I am so fucking poor that I get full financial aid at a $100/credit community college (read: $2,500/semester). I can’t afford it.

Like the isolation isn’t enough of a reminder of being raped. Like the unemployment isn’t enough of a remind that I was raped. The lack of a college degree and watching people I went to school with get their second and third degrees while I am taking intro classes at a two-year school to maybe one day get a bachelors is reminder enough.

Honestly, I shouldn’t fucking feel guilty for being traumatized not being able to know what to do. But I do. This is what happens with schools are allowed to pick and choose which acts of violence are worth addressing. This is what happens when we live in a rape culture that allowed administrators to sweep rape up under the rug instead of support survivors and hold rapists accountable.

I cry a lot because I feel like I fucked up by being raped. It is terrifying to think I will forever (or for a very fucking long time) be weighed down by this huge debt and I might take my family down with me.

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