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College Students' Responses to their Parents' Bankruptcies

posted by Debb Thorne

Regardless of the class I'm teaching, I always find some way to incorporate the subjects of credit, debt and bankruptcy into my lectures. In Introduction to Sociology, I tie the subjects to discussions of social institutions; in Research Methods, I talk about the methods we use to collect data on the Consumer Bankruptcy Project (and share many of our findings); and in Social Inequality, well, the connection is pretty obvious.

One consequence of these lectures on credit/debt/bankruptcy is that students feel free to come talk with me in the privacy of my office about their parents' bankruptcies. Some cry because they are frightened that their parents will no longer be able to afford to pay for college, which translates into either more student loans or postponing their education. Some are afraid that their friends will find out the truth about why the family sold the house and moved out of the neighborhood. Others are angry at their parents' (assumed) financial stupidity. And still others are relieved to know that their parents are not to blame--their mom's medical bills or the loss of their dad's job better explains what happened to the family.

Granted, these observations are nothing more than anecdotal evidence, but they do suggest that when parents file for bankruptcy, the experience extends to their children. The kids are frightened, embarrassed and angry--all of the emotions that their folks probably felt. Unfortunately, these kids don't feel that they can talk with their parents about the bankruptcy (we all know that people will talk about their sex lives long before they will chat about their finances). Instead, they turn to their professor for reassurance.

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  • As a public service, the University of Illinois College of Law operates Bankr-L, an e-mail list on which bankruptcy professionals can exchange information. Bankr-L is administered by one of the Credit Slips bloggers, Professor Robert M. Lawless of the University of Illinois. Although Bankr-L is a free service, membership is limited only to persons with a professional connection to the bankruptcy field (e.g., lawyer, accountant, academic, judge). To request a subscription on Bankr-L, click here to visit the page for the list and then click on the link for "Subscribe." After completing the information there, please also send an e-mail to Professor Lawless (rlawless@illinois.edu) with a short description of your professional connection to bankruptcy. A link to a URL with a professional bio or other identifying information would be great.

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