A Dream Defaulted: The Student Loan Crisis Among Black Borrowers

Contrary to popular opinion, the student debt crisis is not a consequence of frivolous or unwise spending decisions on the part of young people seeking undergraduate degrees. In this important book, Houle and Addo demonstrate that structural rather than individual factors have produced the current emergency. Houle and Addo not only examine the racialized scope and impact of the student debt crisis but also provide recommendations for pathways out of the catastrophe.

About the book

Authors Jason N. Houle and Fenaba R. Addo offer a deft analysis of the growing financial crisis in education, examining its sources and its impacts. Based on more than five years of ongoing qualitative and quantitative research, this incisive work illustrates how the student loan system has not benefited all students equally. The authors tell the story of how first-generation college students, low-income students, and students of color are disadvantaged in two opposing phases of the process: debt accumulation and debt repayment. They further demonstrate that policies intended to mitigate financial burden and prevent default have failed to assist the people who most need help.

Houle and Addo present these social and racial disparities within a broader context, tracing how centuries of institutionalized racism have contributed to social and economic inequities, perpetuating the racial wealth gap and leading to intergenerational inequality. Through interviews with borrowers, the authors illuminate the ways in which racial disparities affect who has college access, how and why people take on debt, and who has the ability to repay student loan debt after leaving college.

Recognizing that the affordability crisis cannot be solved by higher education reform alone, the authors consider solutions. They argue that policy must extend beyond debt reduction and financial aid to address entrenched patterns of racial inequality and racial discrimination, both inside and outside institutions of higher education.


Fenaba R. Addo is a Cook Center faculty affiliate and an associate professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

Jason N. Houle is an associate professor of sociology at Dartmouth College.

You Mean It or You Don’t: James Baldwin’s Radical Challenge

You Mean It Or You Don't cover image

“Both reflective and redemptive, Hollowell and McGhee’s close reading of Baldwin’s works and his deeply personal impact on their thinking and activism proves that philosophy can propel us to act, with clarity, in the cause of social justice.”

You Mean It or You Don’t is an extremely timely, transformative piece. It reminds readers of the intensity of James Baldwin’s moral demand for social transformation and intersectional equity. It’s not just a book–it’s a much-needed blueprint.”

“Hollowell and McGhee do something really remarkable here by giving us Baldwin’s life story (but not just his biography), his works (and not just a lit review), and his activism (not just a how-to manual). I love encountering Baldwin in this way–it’s fresh and hopeful, and it will be meaningful to those who want to live out Baldwin’s vision.”

“As superb an invitation as one will find to Baldwin that simultaneously breathes the necessary urgency for these times into both those familiar with the artist and newcomers. As a reader you will walk away reluctantly grateful to have been shaken from the façade of safety.”

“In You Mean It or You Don’t McGhee and Hollowell bring the much-needed prophetic voice of James Baldwin into conversation with our current moment. Equal parts practical and poetic, You Mean It or You Don’t inspires readers to dream of a liberated future, hands us the tools, and then dares us to build it together.”

“Few books help us focus on Baldwin’s power to help us create and understand our relevance to each other as well as You Mean It or You Don’t. Pick it up. Read it to yourself; read it to each other. That’s what this is all about: we either mean it or we don’t.”

About the book

After a speech at UMass Amherst on February 28, 1984, James Baldwin was asked by a student: “You said that the liberal façade and being a liberal is not enough. Well, what is? What is necessary?” Baldwin responded, “Commitment. That is what is necessary. You mean it or you don’t.”

Taking up that challenge and drawing from Baldwin’s fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and interviews, You Mean It or You Don’t will spur today’s progressives from conviction to action. It is not enough, authors Hollowell and McGhee urge us, to hold progressive views on racial justice, LGBTQ+ identity, and economic inequality. True and lasting change demands a response to Baldwin’s radical challenge for moral commitment. Called to move from dreams of justice to living it out in communities, churches, and neighborhoods, we can show that we truly mean it.

Welcome to life with James Baldwin. It is raw and challenging, inspired and embodied, passionate and fully awake.


Adam Hollowell teaches ethics and inequality studies at Duke University, where he directs the Global Inequality Research Initiative at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Jamie McGhee is a novelist, playwright, and essayist. For her fiction, she was named a James Baldwin Fellow in Saint-Paul de Vence, France, and a Sacatar Fellow in Itaparica, Brazil. She has also been awarded artist residencies at Blue Mountain Center in New York, Zentrum für Kunst Urbanistik in Germany, and Sa Taronja Associació Cultural in Spain. With ties to the eastern US, she is now based in Berlin, Germany.

The Pandemic Divide: How COVID Increased Inequality in America

The Pandemic Divide is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand why COVID-19 has hit Black communities so incredibly hard and what must change if we believe in an equitable society. As we emerge from this pandemic we know that more pandemics will come. We also know that, for so many people, every day is a health crisis. If we want to see a different outcome, we must dismantle systems of structural racism that are the barriers to opportunity. These authors show us what must be done.”

“When we want to look back years from now to understand how in the United States, a very prosperous country, the impact of COVID-19, from mortality rates to job losses, resulted in the worst outcomes among Black and Brown communities, this book will be a comprehensive, one-stop source for enlightenment.”

About the book

As COVID-19 made inroads in the United States in spring 2020, a common refrain rose above the din: “We’re all in this together.” However, the full picture was far more complicated—and far less equitable. Black and Latinx populations suffered illnesses, outbreaks, and deaths at much higher rates than the general populace. Those working in low-paid jobs and those living in confined housing or communities already disproportionately beset by health problems were particularly vulnerable. The contributors to The Pandemic Divide explain how these and other racial disparities came to the forefront in 2020. They explore COVID-19’s impact on multiple arenas of daily life—including wealth, health, housing, employment, and education—while highlighting what steps could have been taken to mitigate the full force of the pandemic. Most crucially, the contributors offer concrete public policy solutions that would allow the nation to respond effectively to future crises and improve the long-term well-being of all Americans.

Contributors. Fenaba Addo, Steve Amendum, Leslie Babinski, Sandra Barnes, Mary T. Bassett, Keisha Bentley-Edwards, Kisha Daniels, William A. Darity Jr., Melania DiPietro, Jane Dokko, Fiona Greig, Adam Hollowell, Lucas Hubbard, Damon Jones, Steve Knotek, Arvind Krishnamurthy, Henry Clay McKoy Jr., N. Joyce Payne, Erica Phillips, Eugene Richardson, Paul Robbins, Jung Sakong, Marta Sánchez, Melissa Scott, Kristen Stephens, Joe Trotter, Chris Wheat, Gwendolyn L. Wright


Gwendolyn L. Wright is Director of Strategic Initiatives and Collaborations at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University.

William A. Darity Jr. is Samuel DuBois Cook Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University.

Lucas Hubbard is Associate in Research at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University.