A Student Loan Retrospective

  • Mark S. James Molloy University
Keywords: autotheory, student loan forgiveness, neoliberalization of higher education, systemic racism, anti-intellectualism, critical university studies


The email came five days before my 54th birthday. It informed me that my student loan debt had been forgiven. With that, I lost the last tie to the social identity that I valued most: my identity as a student. By the time the debt was forgiven, it was almost $265k. I hadn’t imagined a future without it.

This is an autotheoretical exploration of what it meant to me to take on student loan debt in my quest to become a student/intellectual and emancipate myself from the limitations of my background. When I borrowed to excess, I renounced any vision of a future beyond the prolonged present of that identity as a student. However, rather than experience landing a tenure-track job or even tenure itself as a continuation of my identity as a student, I have instead struggled to foster the conditions that make such a quest possible for students who have come after me.

Loan forgiveness means that my identity as a student is at a definite end, so now I participate in the reproduction of the exploitative mythologies of higher education by choice. At a time when academic journals report that faculty members, particularly faculty of color, are choosing to leave institutions of higher education, I am unexpectedly free to examine my relationship to this profession and reconsider my future in it.