In the third part of our Black & In Debt series, we spoke with Tracy, a clinical counselor at a community college in Texas managing graduate school debt.
Can you tell us about your student loan situation?
I graduated with my second master’s degree in September. This was the first time I took out student loans so it was a shock to have to fund this degree.
And now, even though my payments were reduced through Summer, they’re still $400-$500 a month. That’s not a drop in the bucket. I want to make sure that I’m able to comfortably pay it because I’m in the position to have it forgiven [through Public Service Loan Forgiveness]. So if I fall behind, that would just throw everything out of the water. I just want to make sure I stay on top of it to make sure that doesn’t happen.
What does your day-to-day look like as a clinical counselor?
I am a clinical counselor in an academic setting. I focus on mental health counseling for students.
What motivated you to become a clinical counselor?
The reason why I became a counselor is because there are not enough Black clinicians. It can be difficult for students to try and share their story or talk about sensitive issues with somebody who doesn’t look like them or understand their perspective. My friend told me I was like a unicorn, because as a Black clinician, we really are that unique (laughs).
So pursuing this career was important to you because of representation?
Oh, absolutely. There’s a stigma around mental health issues. You don’t go and talk about your problems with just anybody. And if you do go talk to somebody and they don’t look like you, how will they understand how you’re feeling? Or your anger and your sadness regarding the racial injustice going on right now?
This racial trauma is so significant that people don’t realize the damage that’s being done now. People are being revictimized and retraumatized as a result of being in a marginalized group, and this has been happening for centuries.
Being the only Black clinician at the college I work at, I feel compelled to make a space for students to be able to see somebody that looks like them and for them to have these conversations in a safe environment. Because it’s necessary. No, question about it. So, I’m happy I went to school to do that.
Why do you believe there aren’t enough Black clinicians?
It’s one of those fields that doesn’t pay well right away. So you have to make a lot of sacrifices before you can reap the reward or benefits of it.
Unfortunately, many people make decisions to go to other career paths, whether it’s what they want or not. They have to do it for financial reasons. I’m the only Black person where I work now at my public institution, but I see others have to go into private practice just to pay off their loan debt. They just aren’t able to assist those in the community as much as they want.
What are some of the sacrifices you had to make in order to stay in this field of work?
I went back to get my second master’s because of job security. There was a whole reorganization within the college and they were splitting people up based on licensure or no licensure. And it was unsettling for me that either I might have a job or I might be let go.
I wouldn’t have been marketable going back into the community with no licensure. I knew I had to go back to school if I wanted to continue to work in this career. Otherwise, I would have to start a whole new career with an entry-level income. It was a huge decision for me to make, but one I definitely don’t regret.
What was your experience like going back to school?
Well, I was working three jobs while I was in graduate school. I worked my regular job and then I had to do my internships in order to get my hours. I wasn’t in a position to quit my job. I hear many graduate students say, “Oh, I quit working so I could do my internship”. Nope, that wasn’t a thing for me. So, I just went ahead and worked outside of my regular work hours so that I could, you know, live.
You just did what you had to do in your situation.
Yeah, I had to do what I had to do. I have an older son and I take care of him financially. I just have to be there for everyone else. Being financially secure doesn’t just impact me, it’s impacting other people in my life that are important to me.
In the end, do you feel like it was worth it to take out your loans?
Absolutely. I have no regrets about taking out loans at all because the small impact that I can make will always be worth it.
Thank you to Tracy for taking the time to share her story. If you are Black student loan borrower and are interested in receiving help and sharing your story with us, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the Black student debt experience and how debt perpetuates the racial wealth gap, check out the first part of our series, Black & In Debt: The Inequitable Burden of Student Loans on Black Borrowers.