A little background on me. I’m almost 35 years old, I went to an in-state university (UC Santa Cruz), I worked two jobs almost full-time during school, my parents helped me financially in ways that they could, and I had to take out student loans that I am not yet, but almost done paying back. I consider myself much luckier than many. I was able to find a way to afford to go to college in a country where getting a higher education has become more and more expected and less and less feasible. I do not for a second think that I am better than those who had to incur more debt in order to do so. The same cannot be said for xoJane writer Jessica Slizewski, who penned one of the most idiotic and tone deaf pieces I’ve possibly ever read on the internet, entitled “Unpopular Opinion: I Don’t Have Student Loans And I Don’t Feel Bad For People Who Do.”
First, let’s review, in Slizewski’s own words, how this financial marvel “worked hard to avoid taking out loans”:
- Her family contributed financially: “My wonderful parents and grandmother helped me pay for my education.”
Oh wait hold up, let’s stop right there and just let that sink in. Slizewski worked hard to avoid taking out loans by accepting her family’s hard-earned money instead. WHY DIDN’T THE REST OF US THINK OF THAT? Moving on…
- She went to a cheaper in-state school and lived at home: “My college roommates were named Mom and Dad … and yes, it was awful.”
- She worked: “I [had] part-time on-campus scholarship job in addition to full-time hours at my retail job.”
This was not without incredible sacrifice. See, by living at home — “with a mother who has a disturbing penchant for singing Chris Brown and LMFAO songs and accidentally throws a Sharpie in the dryer with your load of freshly washed (and now ruined) clothes” — Slizewski missed out on the stereotypical college experience, which, despite acknowledging it’s a stereotype, she thinks all of her stupid debt-incuring friends had. And what exactly is the stereotypical college experience that apparently all of us dummies with debt favored over making smart financial decisions like Slizewski? Exactly like “Animal House.” She writes:
You pick some private university in the middle of a cornfield with a tuition price of about $36,000 a year, plus room and board, party it up every night since you’ve finally escaped the teenage hellhole known as your family’s home, and stumble into your Symbolism in Harry Potter seminar at 11 a.m. still half-drunk and probably reeking of Icehouse. You join a sorority, get vomit in your hair more times than you’re willing to admit publicly, and spend half the day on whatever flavor-of-the-week social media site the guy you currently like is active on.
Is that a bit of jealousy and resentment I sense underneath all of Slizewski’s judgement? It’s never too late to learn how to do a keg stand! But in all seriousness, what Slizewski describes is about as far from my college experience as possible. I didn’t join a sorority, I never got puke in my hair and I don’t know what an Icehouse is. Not everyone went away to college just so they could get wasted. Going away to college, while a privilege to be able to afford, offers valuable life experience (not limited to learning how to do your own laundry). Slizewski is also hardly the only person who worked while she was a student. Most students have jobs too — and guess what? They, like me, still had to take out loans! Anyway, she continues:
Sounds fun — until you realize all this will probably leave you at least $30,000 in the hole upon receiving that diploma. And guess what? Unless you absolutely needed some highly specialized major that was only offered at a few schools, chances are you probably could have gotten your education/accounting/psychology degree at a much more affordable university closer to home. You might have even been able to — gasp — live with your parents.
Or you might not have. What Slizewski fails to recognize in her rabidly judgmental screed is that many, many people do not have the privileges she had. Those include:
- Going To School Locally: Slizewski is from Chicago and went to school nearby at Northeastern Illinois University. But what if you don’t live in a college town? What if the closest college is a two-hour drive? Is Slizewski really under the impression that everyone lives in places with a bevy of great schools to choose from?
- Living At Home: Hey, it’s awesome that Slizewski’s parents were down to put up with her under their roof for another four years. Many others aren’t as lucky. Maybe they come from an abusive or intolerant home. Maybe their parents wanted them to move out. There are lots of reasons why an 18-year-old might jump at the chance to get the fuck out of their parents’ house, beyond a desire to get vomit in their hair. Some people literally feel like they have to for their own mental and physical well-being. Some want to move out because their parents, unlike Slizewski’s, would charge them rent once they reached adult age. Who knows. I went away to college for a lot of reasons, but I could have gone to school in my hometown of San Diego and lived at home; if I had, I would have been there to watch my dad develop a raging drug addiction during my freshman year and I can assure you, I would have found a way to get the fuck out then, including taking out more loans if necessary.
- Financial Assistance From Family: Just so we’re clear, living at home rent-free during college is absolutely a form of financial assistance. But Slizewski had more help than that, as her parents and grandmother “helped her pay” for school. She doesn’t specify how much they paid, but any amount is significant when you consider — which Slizewski doesn’t — that some people receive no financial help from their parents at all, either because their parents can’t afford it or are unwilling. Or maybe they don’t have parents! Or maybe they don’t have parents who are supportive of their aspirations! Again, not everyone comes from a family like Slizewski’s, with the ability and willingness to contribute financially. Not everyone has a mom who sings Chris Brown while she does your fucking laundry either. (Sorry, I just can’t get over the laundry thing.)
These are just a few examples of how not everyone is as privileged as Slizewski — for many, many, many people, taking out student loans was necessary in order to go to college. Slizewski, however, seems to think this is a simple choice. You either are dumb and financially irresponsible and took out $50K in loans because you really, really wanted to go to frat parties in a cornfield, or you were smart, self-sacrificing and hard-working and decided to go to school while living at home, POOR YOU. Clearly, living at home for four years taught Slizewski absolutely nothing about the real world, let alone, you know, empathy. Her friend who got a liberal arts degree from a university in the Midwest and now is waiting tables to pay off his debt? She told him so. Fuck that guy with his job and his commitment to paying off his own debt that is none of her goddamn business. Also, whooooo asked for her pity anyway? Anyone? Anyone?
And really, none of this is Slizewski’s business. Look, do I personally think it’s a bit cray cray for an 18-year-old to sign on the dotted line, agreeing to $40K a year in tuition to get a liberal arts degree that probably won’t be all that directly helpful in their eventual career? Yes, I do. Just as my parents were wise to advise me to attend a more affordable university instead of a pricey one with name cache, I will likely encourage my children to do the same. I wish more young people had responsible adults advising them to think about the long-term impact of taking on so much debt. But I also wish young people had more responsible adults in their life period.
I was curious about what a debt-free genius like Slizewski does with her time when she’s not blogging from inside her privileged little bubble so I did some Googling. Turns out, she’s a world traveler! According to her website, when the “recession-plagued economy” made it “impossible” for her to find a job after she graduated in 2010, Slizewski headed to Europe solo – twice! I’m guessing she didn’t take out loans for that either. And now she’s living in New Zealand, working as an editor and writer. Where? Unclear. Her website has a few links to work she’s published, but they’re not particularly noteworthy, and a Google search turns up a whole lot of nothing else besides her travel blog. Since Slizeweski is clearly anti-loan, I can’t help but wonder how she’s paying to be a world traveler living abroad. One shitty article on xoJane doesn’t pay the bills.
Oh, do I sound judgmental? Meh. I don’t feel sorry either.