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TX Young Advocates Share Their Perspectives on The 2024 Policy Agenda!

Navigating the Student Debt Crisis: A Call for Action

Student debt has become an entrenched feature of the modern educational landscape, casting a shadow over the dreams and aspirations of countless students. Once considered a gateway to personal and professional success, the pursuit of higher education is now inseparable from the burden of financial strain, affecting individuals and society at large.

One of the primary challenges posed by student debt is the overwhelming financial burden it imposes on graduates and those still pursuing their degrees. Soaring tuition costs and living expenses result in a mountain of debt that can hinder individuals from achieving life milestones or pursuing further education.

As a senior at Prairie View A&M University, I cherish my time on campus and my involvement in esteemed organizations. However, the excitement of each semester is dampened by the stress of financial obligations. Despite financial aid, additional expenses such as housing, books, and personal bills weigh heavily on my mind.

The consequences of student debt extend beyond financial concerns to take a psychological toll on graduates. Stress, anxiety, and a sense of hopelessness plague those grappling with repayment, often forcing compromises on career choices for financial stability. This compromise can lead to a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction, undermining the very purpose of pursuing higher education.

Addressing the student debt crisis demands a comprehensive approach. Policymakers must explore avenues to make higher education more affordable, including debt forgiveness programs and initiatives promoting financial literacy. Colleges and universities must also reassess tuition structures and seek innovative ways to reduce the overall cost of education.

At YI, we advocate tirelessly for policy and legislative changes aimed at student debt relief. In conclusion, the issue of student debt is a complex challenge requiring urgent attention and action. We must create an educational system that empowers individuals without burdening them with insurmountable debt. Only through concerted efforts can we alleviate the financial and emotional strain faced by students, enabling them to pursue education without the shadow of debt looming over their dreams.

Chanelle Ferrell is a senior at the Illustrious Prairie View A&M University. They are a political science major concentrating on legal studies, and their education is the reason they came to Prairie View in the first place. They have always been a community-oriented person, and they love to understand the history of how we got here and uplift the people who live in their community.

Empowering Youth Voices: A Call to Action

At sixteen, I witnessed a powerful movement as the youth in my nation rose up against police brutality in the End SARS protests. Despite my longing to join, age restrictions and parental authority held me back. However, I saw firsthand the transformative power of youth advocacy as they demanded change and earned respect from the government and older generations.

Inspired by their courage and determination, I vowed never to be silenced again. Yet, when I found myself outside Nigeria during a critical election, I grappled with feeling powerless to make a difference from afar. The memory of “soro soke” (speak up) from the End SARS protests echoed in my mind, urging me not just to speak but to act.

This experience ignited my passion for empowering youth voices. My vision begins with civic engagement, challenging the dominance of older individuals in political discourse that directly impacts the youth. I believe in providing political education to empower youth with the knowledge and tools to advocate for change effectively.

Storytelling is also crucial in amplifying youth voices and inspiring others to speak up. Sharing our experiences and narratives can break down barriers and encourage collective action. By fostering a culture of storytelling, we empower young people to voice their concerns and shape the future of our society.

I am committed to creating a space where every young person feels empowered to speak out and contribute to positive social and political change. Together, let us lift our voices, share our stories, and work towards a more inclusive and equitable world for all.

Chinwe Nwaeze is an advocate from the Young Advocates Program Texas Cohort. They are an international student from Nigeria studying Political Science and Philosophy at the University of Houston.

Breaking Chains, Building Bridges: My Journey Toward an Equitable Future

I immigrated to the United States in 2014 with just my mother by my side, a resilient single parent determined to carve out a better future for her only child. Raised in a family of hard-working women, dreaming big was ingrained in my DNA. But as I settled into my new life, I began to confront the harsh reality that the American Dream, once an emblem of hope, seemed increasingly out of reach for the majority of Americans, immigrants or not.

The system, it appeared, favored the privileged few while erecting insurmountable barriers for the rest of us. Despite my determination and tireless efforts, I found myself ensnared in a web of financial hardship, weighed down by the burden of student debt. How could I, a recent college graduate, dare to dream of success when the cost of education left me shackled to loans, unable to pursue my aspirations freely?

It felt as though my dreams were slipping through my fingers, obscured by the looming shadow of debt and the harsh realities of everyday life – juggling multiple jobs just to make ends meet, struggling to afford basic necessities like rent and food, and fearing the crippling cost of health care.

One fateful day, I stumbled upon a beacon of hope – a community organization tirelessly advocating for student debt relief and wealth-building opportunities for borrowers like myself. Intrigued, I attended a town hall meeting where I was greeted with stories of resilience and solidarity, of individuals fighting tooth and nail to break free from the suffocating grip of student loans.

Inspired by the collective determination and unwavering support of my peers, I found renewed hope in the possibility of debt forgiveness programs and housing assistance initiatives that promised to pave the way for a brighter future. As I immersed myself in the intricacies of policy campaigns, I came to understand the indispensable role of mental health support for borrowers navigating the labyrinth of student debt.

I learned of proposed funding increases for loan repayment programs, poised to incentivize mental health professionals to serve communities in dire need – communities like mine, nestled in the heart of Texas. Fueled by newfound knowledge and an unyielding passion for change, I joined forces with Young Invincibles, lending my voice to the chorus of advocates demanding policies that would usher in financial freedom and mental well-being for all.

In the face of adversity, I refuse to be silenced. Armed with knowledge, determination, and a fierce sense of justice, I stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow advocates, amplifying the voices of borrowers like myself and championing policies that promise to tear down barriers and build a future where dreams are not just attainable but inevitable.

David McCarty comes from an immigrant family who arrived in the United States in 2014 with a dream of overcoming financial barriers and advocating for change. Through their journey navigating student debt and health care challenges, they’ve become a passionate advocate for policy reform, striving to create a future where everyone has access to affordable education, health care, and financial stability.

Knowledge is Power: The Importance of Affordability in Higher Education 

As the daughter of two immigrants from Mexico, the importance of higher education was instilled in me from a young age. My parents, symbols of hard work and sacrifice, emphasized the value of education as a pathway to a brighter future, one they never had the opportunity to pursue themselves. “Trabaja duro por tus sueños,” my mom would often say, underscoring the belief that dedication and education would lead to success.

Today, as a first-year college student at the University of Texas at Austin, I reflect on the challenges I faced during the college decision-making process. At one point, I almost turned down UT Austin because the financial aid I received wasn’t enough to cover my remaining tuition. The prospect of halting my academic journey due to financial constraints was disheartening. I was determined not to take out a loan, fearing the burden of student debt that looms large in higher education discussions.

Fortunately, I was awarded a scholarship that enabled me to attend my current university. However, I often think about the countless young adults who’ve had to forgo their dreams and aspirations due to financial barriers. It’s one thing to navigate the challenges of college life, but overcoming hurdles such as affordability and student debt adds another layer of difficulty.

Today, I proudly serve as a Young Advocate at Young Invincibles, eager to educate and empower individuals in my community about higher education and ways to address issues such as tuition costs and mental health. I empathize with the struggles faced by students, including those who may not be first-generation, in their pursuit of higher education.

I am particularly excited about our efforts to increase investment in community colleges across the state and support students’ non-tuition expenses. Education is a fundamental right that every young adult should have access to. Knowledge is power and can drive change within our communities. That’s why I am passionate about advocating for affordability and accessibility in higher education.

While education costs continue to rise, I am grateful to be part of Young Invincibles, a non-profit organization that provides a platform for me to amplify my voice and advocate for the removal of barriers to higher education, thereby creating more opportunities in areas that need them most.

Jasmine is a first-generation student at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in International Relations and Global Studies.

Navigating Life with Epilepsy: A Journey of Health Care Challenges

Last summer, the day before my twentieth birthday, I had my first seizure. It wasn’t how I imagined the end of my teenage years. Recovering from that seizure was an emotional rollercoaster—I didn’t know how to cope with such an unpredictable event. Sadly, I experienced a second seizure just over a week later, leading to hospitalization. After numerous visits to the neurologist, an MRI, and a psychiatrist appointment, I received a diagnosis: epilepsy.

Growing up, my health care experience was limited to annual check-ups. Now, I have monthly visits with my psychiatrist and regular appointments with my neurologist. Unfortunately, my current health insurance doesn’t cover these visits or my multiple prescriptions. This new financial burden adds to the expenses of attending a public university full-time.

As a young adult, I didn’t fully understand the complexities of health care until my diagnosis. Now, I empathize with others facing similar challenges. Living with a medical condition that requires costly appointments and medications is daunting. I try not to feel guilty about burdening my parents, who generously help with my medical expenses. However, my condition shouldn’t impede my financial stability—I could use these funds for tuition and rent.

No one should have to worry about expensive health care while trying to take care of themselves. Knowing I’ll deal with this for life, I aim to advocate for others in similar situations. My seizure disorder has affected my mental health, leading me to seek therapy. Unfortunately, I had to forgo therapy due to the expense alongside my medications and neurologist appointments. It shouldn’t be a choice between equally beneficial options—mental health care is as vital as physical health care.

I’m excited about the Young Invincibles 2024 campaign, advocating for more accessible and understandable health care, including mental health care, for young adults. Regardless of their health status, individuals should comprehend their health care system and have the right to access it.

Megan Ramos is a Young Advocate from the Austin-Texas cohort. She is in her second year at the University of Texas at Austin pursuing a double-major in Urban Studies and Sustainability Studies.

The Tragedy of Underfunding On-Campus Mental Health Services 

Last spring, Agnes Arnold Hall, the main building for the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Houston, became the site of two tragic suicides within a five-week period. Despite its uninviting appearance and outdated design, the building’s open-air balconies made it a convenient location for these desperate acts. This was not the first time such incidents occurred there, with a similar suicide happening in 2017. However, the problem lies not with the building itself but with the lack of accessible mental health services on campus.

During my time at the University of Houston, I’ve heard numerous complaints about our Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Students expressed frustration over long wait times to see therapists, inadequate staffing for a campus of over 45,000 students, and a focus on short-term issues rather than more serious concerns. While some individuals may have had positive experiences with CAPS, it should not be a hit-or-miss resource for students in need.

The suicides at Agnes Arnold Hall shed light on the underfunding and inaccessibility of mental health services on our campus, a problem not unique to UH but prevalent across colleges in the state. College students face significant stress and challenges, from academic pressure to life transitions and mental health struggles. Yet, they often find themselves without the necessary support.

It is crucial that universities commit to adequately funding and staffing counseling services, as well as providing resources to students in need. Initiatives like the Healthy Minds designation, offering federal funding to universities with quality mental health resources, could incentivize colleges to prioritize these services.

Furthermore, sharing our own experiences with mental health and utilizing counseling services can help raise awareness and destigmatize seeking help. By advocating for better support systems and pushing our institutions to do better, we can ensure that every student receives the care and assistance they deserve during their college journey.

Ola Dafaalla is a senior studying Political Science and Sociology at the University of Houston. She is passionate about health care policy, especially when it comes to mental health access.

Free College 

As a young citizen of this country, I struggle to comprehend why higher education isn’t free. It’s baffling to me that there are viewpoints against providing free college education when the majority of Americans support this idea. It’s unjust that students are burdened with the weight of student debt, preventing many from accessing the education they deserve. This injustice prompted me to speak out.

Many students, like myself, are accumulating debt while in college and are already stressed about how to repay it. Despite working jobs, we still struggle to make ends meet every month. One of the most impactful moments for me was when I had to ask my sister for help paying for college because I couldn’t afford it on my own. It was heart-wrenching because I knew it wasn’t her responsibility.

But what about those who don’t have someone to rely on or who can’t afford to help? Should they be forced to drop out? I firmly believe that no one should have to abandon their dreams of obtaining a degree due to financial constraints. Everyone deserves an opportunity, regardless of their economic situation. After all, the United States is supposed to be the Land of Opportunity. But how can we claim that title when financial burdens prevent people from accessing those opportunities?

Reflecting on my own experiences, I’m motivated to be part of the change. I want to advocate for free higher education so that no one else has to go through what I’ve experienced. This issue affects everyone in the country, and I want to contribute to making our country better. Together, we can bring about the change needed to provide everyone with the opportunity to pursue higher education and fulfill their dreams without the stress, depression, and financial burden.

Rayne Mouch was born in Tennessee. She attended different schools throughout her childhood and finally graduated from Crandall High School in Texas. She is just starting her sophomore year in college and hopes to become a third-grade teacher in Texas.