Chelsea Clinton hosted a Women in Leadership roundtable at Wake Forest University with panelists Paige Meltzer, Director of the Women's Center at Wake Forest; Chizoba Ukairo, Wake Forest senior and student leader; Denise (DD) Adams, Winston-Salem Council Member; and Lisbeth C. (Libba) Evans ('74, MBA '78), iActive Learning founding partner and University Trustee. Her visit was a campaign stop for her mother Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.
Thank you, Dr. Meltzer, for convening all of us here today. Thank you Councilwoman Adams for coming a couple blocks down the road to be with us and for being such a tremendous leader.
Chizoba, thank you for being a tremendous leader. I can't believe you're a senior. I don't quite know if I could have spoken so powerfully when I was a senior. So please give her another rounds of applause. I have no doubt that if the Supreme Court remains your ambition, we'll be seeing you there in a couple of decades.
And thank you to Libba for being with us and your work on early childhood education. That's one of the many issues I didn't know I care more about until I became a parent and found that I could.
I also want to thank Dr. Rogan Kersh and everyone here at Wake Forest for welcoming all of us so warmly. Thank you to all of you in the audience—I hope you're not missing class being with us. And it's particularly nice to see so many young men in the audience, because it's important that you're part of the conversations as well.
And I also just want to thank Troy and the team here on behalf of my mom's campaign who's working so hard across North Carolina and hung all the signs and made sure everything kind of looks as glorious as it does on this beautiful day.
This conversation is deeply close to my heart, not only because my mom is running for president but also because I am the mother of a daughter and a son. I think it is so important that we achieve what Chizoba talked about, which is closing the imagination gaps.
I think it's really hard for all of us to imagine what we cannot see, and so it is hugely critical that we continue to support and elevate people who don't fit the historic mold so that we do break and change that mold. And we know there are so many different dynamics that have to align to make that possible.
So I just want to share a little bit about what my mom is fighting for and working hard for in this campaign and then open it up for whatever questions you may have. And although I'm sitting in the center of the panel this afternoon, if you have questions for the women on either side of me I hope that you will ask them as well.
So why are we here at Wake Forest. Why are we having this conversation at a university?
Libba talked about the women in her family. My mom was the first woman in her family to go to college. See—you learned something new about my mom today. And so ensuring that anyone, anywhere can access the education that she or he thinks is important to pursue their dreams is one of the reasons why my mom is running for president. It's one of the reasons why college and higher education affordability more broadly has been something that she's been talking about from the earliest days of her campaign.
For my mom, not only was it so important that she be able to go to college, it was also very important that she be able go to law school. She had, sounds like, similar dreams to Chizoba. She did have to get loans to be able to do that, and I remember the day when I was seven or eight years old my mom paid off her law school loans and what a big deal that was for her.
Student debt in our country now exceeds more than one trillion dollars. More than $26 billion dollars of that sits right here in North Carolina. More than three out of five students who graduated from college had student debt this year, and an even higher percentage of students who graduated from law school or their graduate schools had student debt.
So this is not an isolated challenge in our country. This is very much an American challenge in our country.
And so my mom knows that we have to ensure that yes, college is more affordable looking forward, but we have to also do something about the student loan debt that is constraining and crushing too many families here in North Carolina and across the country.
So she has a few key points to her plan. She believes that anyone who has student loan debt today should be able to renegotiate to the lowest interest rates. That's important because interest rates are pretty low in our country right now, and if we can we renegotiate our mortgages and our car loans, we certainly should be able to renegotiate our student loan debt. That'll save thousands of dollars for people over the course of their loans.
She believes everyone should be able to index their loan repayments to their incomes. No one should ever have to pay more than 10 percent of their income to repay their student loans, and that after 20 years if people been making their payments the rest of the loan should be forgiven.
For people who are in public service jobs—teachers who are working in high-need areas, our firefighters, our AmeriCorps members—should be able to repay their loans more quickly because their service should count as a loan repayment.
And that also certainly should be true for our veterans and our reservists and our active-duty service members who are going to school alongside their military service and reservist service.
And that anyone who comes from a family of a $125,000 of family income or less—that's about ninety percent of North Carolina families—should be able to go to public colleges and institutions tuition-free, and anyone should be able to go to community college tuition free, of any income level.
So why are we having this conversation about college and higher education affordability and debt refinancing at a women and leadership roundtable, beyond the fact that we're sitting at Wake Forest?
Women are now the majority of community college and four-year college attendants and graduates. Women are now the majority of almost every graduate school program.
So college affordability is a women's issue. Higher education affordability is a women's issue. In the same way that economics is a women's issue, in the same way that childcare shouldn't just be a women's issue but a family issue, an economic issue.
All of these are connected and I think my mother's the only person running for president who really understands that. She's also the only person running for president who has a real plan on college and higher education affordability.
I think—you laugh, but I think this is really serious. I think that what the candidates are talking about, what they're putting a priority on, illuminates what they would focus on or not when in the White House.
And the last point I'll make before opening up to your questions is it also matters a great deal to me as a voter that my mom tells me and all of us how she's going to pay for everything. That's another distinctive element of how she's engaged in this campaign versus her opponent.
So I hope that if this is what you're interested in—college affordability, higher education affordability, because it's not just about college affordability, particularly for people who have ambitions like Chizoba to keep breaking through glass ceilings—I hope you will go to HillaryClinton.com and learn more about her proposals on this area or others.
She launched a college calculator yesterday so that each one of us could go online and see kind of how our loan debt thus far or kind of what we might occur in the future would be affected by her plans, if we're a parent or a veteran, if we're an entrepreneur, if we're going to community college or four-year college, graduate school, if we graduated 10 years ago or we're in high school today.
So I hope that you will visit her website, learn more about her plans in this area and others.
I hope that you'll ask questions not only of me but my fellow panelists and while you're thinking about whatever you may want to ask, please give Wake Forest and everyone here a round of applause for welcoming us so warmly.
So, questions…. Yes? I saw your hand first, so yes, hello. And maybe just share your name and….
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, ma'am.
CLINTON: Oh, gosh, you called me ma'am. That makes me feel so old.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm so sorry. [audience laughing]
CLINTON: No, no. It's okay, it's okay.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: First off, I would like to state that this is a wonderful idea and sorry that the first person to get the mic is a man. [audience laughs] I do apologize for that. I do think it's important to encourage women's voices in every aspect of life. My name is Khalil Lee. I'm a first-year graduate student here in the Com Department. I coach the debate team. I would like to first ask…well, first acknowledge the fact that your mom is very educated—and this goes to all the women on the panel, by the way—that Hillary Clinton is a very educated and well-accomplished woman. She has exceeded so many standards for what women were meant to do in society. And no matter how educated, no matter how well-off she is, people still view her as unqualified or undignified in the way she did a past job. So how can education truly be the route through which women are going to gain equal acceptance and get out of this constant perpetual practices of like tautological violence, when we as men still hold them to higher standards than we would other men in these position?
CLINTON: Thank you for your question, and thank you for your candor and your courage, for being….
LEE: You said my name.
CLINTON: I asked you to say your name, so I think it's only fair that then I recognize it. But you ask a clearly very serious question, and since you asked it kind of in the context of education that's where I will try to answer it. I think that the answer resides much earlier on in the education ecosystem. I think it's much harder to ameliorate those tensions that you talked about in university settings, although I think there's an imperative for universities—colleges, higher education institutions—to give voice to concerns like yours and address them actively. I really think—and this is now just me offering like my personal opinion—that the answer has to start with early childhood education and ensuring that little girls and little boys are equally valued and are validated and are not overly gendered in the historic expectations. So as a mother of a daughter and a son, I already see how people react differently to them. "Oh my gosh, she looks so pretty." "Oh my gosh, he looks so strong." Oh my gosh, he's two-and-a-half months old. He thankfully looks rather chunky more than strong. But I think just each of us being aware of how we talk to and engage with children from the moment they join us on this earth and ensuring that preschools, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools are not only not reinforcing historic stereotypes but are breaking those down and are being conscious about that. Because we know that a not-conscious effort is perpetuating the historic stereotypes. Just a couple of examples. If you ask kindergartners and first graders, "What do you want to be when you grow up?", girls and boys have pretty equal ambitions.
Speech from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YH_MwaCwqYM.