November 2016 Articles

Reading Room

Rethinking Student Debt: “The idea of a student loan crisis has taken hold in the media, in the blogosphere, and in the political arena,” writes Sandy Baum ’72. “But the reality is that borrowing for college is opening doors for many students. It is helping far more people than it is hurting.”

Baum’s new book, Student Debt: Rhetoric and Realities of Higher Education Financing (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), takes a hard look at the evidence to tell the true story of student debt in the U.S. For many, Baum argues, the system is working: people with college degrees generally earn more than those without—and use part of their income to repay debt.

For others, though, the system is indeed broken. The typical borrower burdened by student debt isn’t the 22-year-old with a newly minted degree from an ivy-covered college. “Rather,” Baum writes, “she is an older adult who either left school without completing her program or graduated with a short-term degree or certificate that may improve her circumstances, but not enough to provide a middle-class lifestyle.”

But contrary to election-year rhetoric, Baum takes issue with the notion that we should forgive all outstanding student debt. She writes, “Surely there are borrowers whose outstanding debt should be forgiven…. [T]rying to collect from people who are permanently disabled, retired and living on Social Security, or have declared bankruptcy is ethically questionable in addition to being inefficient. But as with most of the discussion of student debt, it is important not to paint with a broad brush. Most borrowers can and should repay their debts.” Her policy recommendations begin with a simple proposition: limit problematic borrowing for programs the borrower is unlikely to complete or at institutions that don’t serve her well.

How should we deal with existing debt? Baum would improve the existing system of income-driven repayment, one that supports borrowers appropriately while expecting most to repay their debts in full; ease the restrictions on discharging student debt in bankruptcy; eliminate the privileged category of private student loans; and make it easier for students to borrow less than the maximum allowed.

BMC Trustee Sandy Baum ‘72 is a senior fellow in the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

For Whom It StandsShe’s a Grand Old Flag: Named a “Top 10 Must-See Exhibit” by USA Today, For Whom It Stands: The Flag and the American People is now the focus of a book by the same name. The exhibition, curated by Michelle Joan Wilkinson ’93 for Baltimore’s Reginald F. Lewis Museum, brought together more than 100 works of flag-based art, artifacts, documents, and photographs. A fragment of the original Star-Spangled Banner served as a starting point and gave Wilkinson the opportunity to introduce visitors to Grace Wisher, the 13-year old African-American indentured servant who helped to sew that flag in 1813. But the exhibition ranged as well into the contemporary art scene with works like the Arab-American artist Helen Zubhaib’s Prayer Rug for America and the mixed-media work on skateboards by Rafael Colón, an artist and former U.S. Marine. Now a curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Wilkinson has put together a volume of essays that traces the flag’s historical import, its manifestations in contemporary culture, and the perspectives of Americans of varied cultural backgrounds. (Reginald F. Lewis Museum, 2016)

Women ArchitectsWhere Are the Women Architects? Women make up 42% of graduates from architectural programs but only 28% of staff in AIA member-owned firms and only 17% of principals and partners. Throughout the profession, the number of women working as architects remains stubbornly low, and the higher one looks in the profession, the scarcer women become. Law and medicine, two equally demanding and traditionally male professions, have been much more successful in retaining and integrating women. So where are the women architects? Despina Stratigakos ’99 tells the story of the stagnating numbers of women in a profession that remains a male citadel and explores how a new generation of activists is changing the field. Beginning with the backstory, Where Are the Women Architects? reveals how the field has dodged the question since the 19th century, turns to the entrenched hurdles still in place today, and documents the rise of new advocates challenging the boys’ club, from its male-dominated elite prizes to the erasure of women architects from Wikipedia. Counting herself among those advocates, Stratigakos also details her involvement in the creation of Architect Barbie. (Princeton University Press, 2016)

Despina Stratigako is associate professor and interim chair of architecture at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. She is the author of Hitler at Home and A Woman’s Berlin: Building the Modern City.

The Aesthetics of Care: On the Literary Treatment of Animals by Josephine Donovan ’62. Drawing on literary criticism, eco-criticism, and feminist care ethics, Donovan proposes a new aesthetics of care as the basis for a critical approach to animals in literature and offers interpretations of the specific treatment of animals by a wide range of authors, including Willa Cather,  Leo Tolstoy, and J.M. Coetzee. (Bloomsbury, 2016)

The Piscataqua Papers by Josephine Donovan ’62. On a different note, Donovan’s mystery novel for young adults, The Piscataqua Papers, pits a young newspaper reporter and her publisher against a gang of Nazi terrorists holed up on an island off the New Hampshire coast. (Piscataqua Press, 2016)

Snape: A Definitive Reading by Lorrie Kim ’89. One of J.K. Rowling’s enduring gifts to English literature, Snape is the archetypal ill-tempered teacher and a character of almost perfect ambiguity. Is it ever possible, Kim asks, to know what lies underneath his façade? Taking a close look at the Harry Potter oeuvre, she posits that everything about Snape is knowable. (Story Spring Publishing, 2016)

The Politics of Mourning: Death and Honor in Arlington National Cemetery by Micki McElya ’94. Situated on the site of a plantation built by slave labor, Arlington National Cemetery encompasses the most inspiring and the most shameful aspects of American history. McElya enriches the story of this landscape and demonstrates that remembering the past and reckoning with it must go hand in hand. (Harvard University Press, 2016)

Reason and Doctrine: Time for Christians to Rethink What They Believe by Tony Devaney Morinelli, Ph.D. ’90. Arguing that Christian dogma not only contradicts the scientific worldview but also has no foundation in scripture itself, Morinelli turns to ancient texts and their contemporary translations, only to find distinct errors, particularly in Paul’s reading of Genesis and the story of Jesus as a blood sacrifice. (Algora Publishing, 2016)

Staking Claim: Settler Colonialism and Racialization in Hawai’i by Judy Rohrer ’89. Hawai’i sits at a crosscurrent of indigeneity and race, homeland and diaspora, nation and globalization, sovereignty and imperialism. Bringing together indigenous politics, settler colonialism, critical race theory, Native Pacific cultural studies, gender analyses, and Chicana studies, Rohrer examines the workings of settler colonialism and the path toward decolonization. (The University of Arizona Press, 2016)