The Face of Student Debt

Kaitlin Mahar

If you’ve ever wondered who the face of student debt is, we now have an answer. It’s not Bernie Sanders. It’s not Uncle Sam. It’s nobody famous, infamous, or even remotely well-known. It’s Shakeem T. Fowler, a 22 year old student at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, CT, and, according to the Connecticut Post, he was charged with second-degree larceny two weeks ago for stealing about $14,000 in cash receipts from BJ’s Wholesale Club while working in the liquor department.

Why, might you ask? What’s the difference between this punk and any other lazy, ghetto thief from Bridgeport, CT? Well, the answer is simple; Fowler wasn’t lazy, or ghetto, or a punk. He simply needed to pay for his college tuition.

Basically, what Fowler would do was void any transactions which involved customers paying in cash, and then pocket the cash himself. It was reported that he was making around $600 every weekend. Not a bad gig, huh? While not everybody takes the route of pocketing cash and voiding transactions at their places of employment, college students go to ridiculous lengths every day in order to be able to get their education, all for the slight chance of providing a better life for themselves and their loved ones. We sell our bodies to science, we test out drugs and beauty products that may or may not have permanent, damaging effects on us. We get a couple of hours of sleep every night because we’re working multiple jobs on top of taking out a full course load. Everybody knows that desperation to make ends meet in the pursuit of a better life.

Fowler serves as an example of what this country has come to: students having to steal in order to afford an education. After all, who hasn’t worn a dress to formal and then returned it the next day because you needed something to wear, but couldn’t afford it? Or considered finding a way to lie on your FAFSA to get a little extra financial aid? No, the closest you’ve ever come to being Native American is when you played Squanto in your elementary school’s Thanksgiving pageant in the third grade, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t consider for a moment the prospect of saying you were 1/116th Wampanoag in order to alleviate a little of your student loan debt. Get help and write off your debts and council tax bailiffs.

Is Fowler really the criminal here? Or is he yet another victim of the cold, domineering hand of Sallie Mae as she squeezes the life (and life savings) out of today’s college students and graduates, all of whom are emptying their savings and ruining their credit just so that they can maybe provide a better life for themselves and their families.

Take another look at Fowler and his story. He isn’t simply a poster boy for people who want to have a college education. Shakeem T. Fowler is a representative of all of those people who need a college education, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it, no matter what the cost.