Student Loan ‘Forgiveness’ Implies We Did Something Wrong

We didn’t, my friends

Julio Vincent Gambuto
5 min readJun 22

Me the day I got my MFA

This is a repost of a piece I wrote in 2021. Sadly, it is still completely relevant.

I am not one to wade into the choppy waters of renaming common terms or phrases. Yes, I do believe the pen — or the keyboard — is mightier than the sword, and I stand firmly by the leftist creed that “words matter” (as do full sentences). But, seeing as the sky has been falling for the last four years, as have bridges and now power grids, I usually feel our time and energy are better spent fighting other fights. However, the term “student loan forgiveness” drives me full-on mad. I have few triggers, but that is surely one button (constantly) pushed.

Can we please come up with a better way to discuss the $1.6 trillion economic problem we have on our hands? The whole conversation has been framed as a moral issue, and it is not. “Forgiveness” is an Old English word that reeks of Biblical overtones. It implies offense, crime, sin. Is this really how we want to discuss this? We would be much better served to move the conversation from the emotional/spiritual/religious realm into one that is purely black-and-white/dollars-and-cents.

Yes, I do realize that the term was not invented in the context of the student loan debate. It has long existed in the financial sector. But should it? We’re using the same term now to discuss the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Hundreds of thousands of small-business owners are logging into “forgiveness centers’’ on the websites of every major bank in this country, presumably to plead for mercy from the bank (who, by the way, is making billions processing this “forgiveness”) and the government for… what exactly? Not being able to operate during an unprecedented global disaster and the largest economic hit they have ever taken in their lives? The framing is subtle, but it’s important. And it’s damaging to the psyche.

Full disclosure: I went to a small independent prep school on a large scholarship, college on a grant and loans, and graduate school on loans and a fellowship. I was a kid from a working-class family, and I worked my tail off to earn my degrees. Suffice it to say that I have some experience with student loans. My life is essentially “brought to you by”…

Julio Vincent Gambuto

Author of “Please Unsubscribe, Thanks!” from Avid Reader Press at Simon & Schuster // Now available in US and UK //