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Canceling student debt could ease racial wealth divide, researcher says

October 22, 2021

In ASU talk, Brookings Institution senior fellow Andre Perry describes how racist policies led to debt crisis

Decades of racist policies like redlining have extracted wealth from Black communities, but one way to repair the harm would be to cancel student debt, according to a researcher who spoke at Arizona State University.

“There is a big wealth divide that most Black people live with,” said Andre Perry, a senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution.

“I don’t care if you have a PhD or a high income. Most Black people did not receive the intergenerational wealth transfer that their white counterparts did, as a result of federal, state and local policy.”

Perry was the speaker for the 2021 Graduate College Distinguished Lecture on Thursday. His talk, titled “Canceling Student Debt is Anti-Racist (and Why We Must Do It),” explored why Black people typically must take out higher amounts of loans to attend college and why they have a harder time paying them back.

“There’s a reason why Black people have to take out more student loans,” he said. “We were denied the wealth that would have enabled us to pay for college.”

Redlining, the systemic policy of denying mortgages to Black people, created a system of grossly undervaluing property in Black neighborhoods. Perry, author of the book “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities,” estimated the lost equity of Black-owned property at $156 billion for the year 2017 alone.

In addition, as the cost of higher education has risen, the incomes of Black college graduates have not kept pace with those of white degree-holders. So because Black borrowers take longer to pay off their loans, they end up paying more in interest.

“One of the most repeated mistakes in this debate is the assumption that all people in a particular income stratum have the ability to repay the loans. That’s missing the lived experience of Black people,” he said.

two people sitting in chairs talking

Andre Perry (left), senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, participated in a Q&A session with Battinto Batts, dean of the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, during Perry's talk Oct. 21 in Old Main on the Tempe campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Student debt has become a hot topic, with several debt-cancellation proposals being floated. A study released last week by The Education Trust found that two-thirds of Black borrowers regret taking out student loans. The report, based a nationwide survey of nearly 1,300 Black borrowers, found that 58% said they do not believe that student loans advance racial equality for Black borrowers.

Perry said that student debt is already being canceled every day for small groups of borrowers, such as those who acquired loans through predatory lenders, people in public service and some veterans.

Perry, who said that debt cancellation does not need to be passed by Congress, is optimistic that it will happen in some form.

“I think it’s highly unlikely, when this repayment freeze is over in January 2022, that they will ask students to start repaying in an election year,” he said.

But debt cancellation is only a partial solution.

“At some point we need free college,” he said. “Only in America have we made higher education a luxury. It’s no longer a luxury. Go into the job market without a college degree and see how far you get.”

Perry's talk was followed by a Q&A session with Battinto Batts, the new dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Batts asked: “There is some opposition to this. Some people say, ‘If students shouldn’t pay for higher education, who should? Taxpayers?’ ”

Perry said that the pandemic showed how beneficial federal aid is, with less reliance on borrowing, more saving and more home buying. He said the same thing would happen if Black people were freed from their monthly student loan payment.

“There’s a lot of skepticism, particularly when it comes to Black folks, on whether we’ll use the money to buy gold chains and jewelry,” he said.

During the pandemic, more Black people started businesses in Black neighborhoods, he said.

“You could argue that was because the unemployment rate was higher, but this idea that you’re going to be irresponsible with that money is unfounded. People want to own a home, they want to own a car, they want to go to work, they want to go to grad school.

“We have got to learn how to trust people more, particularly Black people. That’s white supremacist thinking, that if you somehow get 500 extra dollars you’ll waste it.”

Top image: Andre Perry, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, was the speaker for the 2021 Graduate College Distinguished Lecture on Thursday at the Tempe campus. His talk was titled, “Canceling Student Debt is Anti-Racist (and Why We Must Do It).” Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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How mindfulness-based stress reduction can improve quality of life in people with autism

October 22, 2021

ASU professor explores the effects of age, sex and mindfulness on quality of life in men, women with autism

The practice of mindfulness was often touted throughout the pandemic as a useful tool for dealing with an unforeseen life stressor. As College of Health Solutions Assistant Professor Blair Braden recently discovered, mindfulness is also a useful tool for dealing with the particular stressors associated with autism spectrum disorder.

“Initially, most of the research in my lab was looking at how aging affects individuals with autism on a cognitive level,” said Braden, who directs the Autism and Brain Aging Laboratory at Arizona State University. “But one of the things we didn’t expect was that we saw very consistently a lot of struggles with depression and anxiety, as well as physical health, that contribute to quality of life.”

ASU College of Health Solutions Assistant Professor Blair Braden standing next to the MRI she uses in her Autism Brain Aging Laboratory research.

ASU College of Health Solutions Assistant Professor Blair Braden.

In a paper published this month in the journal Quality of Life Research, Braden and colleagues detail two separate studies in which they set out to better understand the factors that affect quality of life in adults with autism, whom studies have shown consistently report worse functional health and well-being compared with their neurotypical peers.

The researchers found that both age and sex play a role, and that both mindfulness and relaxation education can improve quality of life in adults with autism, but mindfulness provided specific benefits in relation to how autistic individuals view their disability-associated limitations that relaxation education did not.

The first study employed a survey to evaluate the effects of sex and age. Sixty-seven adults with autism spectrum disorder and 66 neurotypical adults answered questions about their physical and mental health. Both men and women with autism reported lower mental health quality of life compared with their neurotypical counterparts, but only women with autism reported lower physical quality of life compared with neurotypical adults.

“This is kind of consistent with the larger picture of how autism manifests in girls and women,” Braden said. “Women seem to carry a greater burden across the board.”

Interestingly, researchers also found that among adults with autism, older women reported better mental health than men, whom age didn’t appear to have an effect on.

The second study sought to compare the effects of a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) intervention to those of a relaxation education intervention on quality of life in adults with autism. Those who received the MBSR intervention were not only taught mindfulness techniques by a trained practitioner, they were also given time to practice the techniques during the class. Those who received the relaxation education intervention were provided with information on relaxation techniques from the National Institutes of Health, but were not given time to practice the techniques during the class.

Researchers found that the MBSR intervention improved disability-related quality of life (which includes both physical and mental health aspects of disability) in adults with autism over and above the relaxation education intervention, but both interventions improved mental health-related quality of life. In addition, both interventions were more effective for overall health-related quality of life improvements in women with autism compared with men with autism.

“There is some research about the psychosocial mechanisms of how mindfulness works in general,” Braden said about the difference in results between the sexes. “When it comes to personality characteristics like openness and empathy, which are thought to improve the effects of mindfulness, women tend to score higher in general than men. But people with autism are known to struggle with empathy, so we’re not sure why we’re seeing that here.”

Overall, the researchers were able to conclude a few things:

  • Men and women with autism spectrum disorder do not experience equivalent health-related quality of life reductions, and difficulties associated with the disorder may change over the lifespan.
  • Psychosocial interventions broadly may only be effective for improving health-related quality of life in women with autism spectrum disorder, rather than both sexes.
  • MBSR may have specific efficacy for improving disability-related quality of life in men and women with autism spectrum disorder.

Ideally, the researchers say, these findings can be expanded and incorporated into precision medicine strategies for improving quality of life in adults with autism spectrum disorder, across the life span.

“Our findings show that we need to be thinking about how autism affects adults based on their age and sex,” Braden said. “We likely also need to take a personalized medicine approach to how we treat some of these difficulties in future interventions.”

Top photo courtesy of iStock/Getty images