Emmeline Zhao, at Real Clear Education, interviewed “Lauren”, Duke’s Republican freshman pornstar about her preferred way of working her way through college and Duke tuition costs.
How did it cross your mind to get into adult films?
I’ve always really liked watching porn. I started watching porn when I was maybe 11, and it was something I was always very ashamed about, but I really enjoyed watching it. So when I got to college and was faced with all these financial burdens, I was literally sitting in my room one night, and I didn’t know how I was going to pay for all this, and half joking said to my roommate, “Well f— it, I’ll just be a porn star.” And so we kind of laughed, but then I half-heartedly applied and sent my picture to a bunch of porn agencies. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but then I started getting callbacks from people saying they saw a lot of potential.
And when I started learning about just how much porn stars make, I realized I could graduate from school free of debt and do something I really love doing without having to bust my ass doing minimum wage jobs that wouldn’t get me anywhere. I knew that with my skills — I don’t yet have a college degree — I knew that all I could get was a minimum wage service job. It didn’t seem economically feasible to me. I didn’t want to struggle in school while working, and it wouldn’t pay my bills. So I just jumped into it, into porn, and really loved it.
What about financial aid? Did you apply for any grants or scholarships?
I have siblings in college, who are being supported by my parents, and my parents are paying $1,000 a month just for their own student loans and my dad graduated 20 years ago. One of my parents is recently unemployed. I was offered $13,000 in financial aid. That wasn’t enough — that’s $47,000 still unaccounted for.
People have this perception that if you cannot pay for college, financial aid will take care of you, and that perception is wrong. If you are very low income, you can get a full ride to Duke, no problem. If you are middle or upper-middle class, you will get screwed in the process. So many middle class students have not gotten sufficient financial aid because on paper, their families look like they have money. Just because I’m not poor doesn’t mean I can afford $60,000 a year for college. Other students from middle and upper-middle class families have said the same thing.
When you look at the state of education in America, middle class students are left out, even harmed, by the financial aid process, not helped by it. People need to come to an understanding about that. Financial aid offices should look at their policies and how they help their students.
What about options for student loans? Government loans would have at least deferred payments for a little while after graduation, interest-free.
I wasn’t offered any government loans — my only other option was private loans at 12 percent interest rates and I knew that by the time I graduated college, I’d have hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. I have seen other members of my family graduate college decades ago still dealing with debt now and I knew it’d give me less mobility. It would also hurt me if I needed to get something like a credit card — hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt is not something I want to carry around and it’s absolutely ridiculous that that’s what the state of our nation is, that that’s an expectation.
I have a friend who comes from a low-income family and pays $500 a year for Duke, and when I talk to him about my problems with financial aid, he doesn’t understand. It’s such a problem to be caught in the middle with financial aid, and people just don’t understand.
I think it’s very poignant that nowadays if you’re middle class, the only way to pay for college is to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans. We need to provide a better financial future for our students. I shouldn’t have to go broke, I shouldn’t have to go into debt at 18 years old to pay for an education.
So why Duke, of all places? Why didn’t you choose a less costly institution?
I was offered scholarships at a lot of places. I was offered full tuition at Vanderbilt, for example, and was accepted into USC, Wellesley, Barnard, Pepperdine, some others. But I visited Duke last year on Blue Devil Days [Duke’s programmed weekend for admitted freshmen], and I remember walking into the Duke Chapel — I’m a very spiritual person — and just feeling an energy that told me, “This is the place you need to be.” And I felt something in the chapel in that moment that told me that I needed to be here and go to Duke and it was something that would be an amazing experience for me.
Would you still do porn if Duke cost less?
No. If Duke had given me sufficient financial aid, if they had given me the proper resources and made college affordable for my family, I would not have done porn. I would’ve just gotten through college and been fine. The financial burden that Duke put on me was absolutely enormous and insurmountable with the resources that I had. …
Why do you say porn is less demeaning than a service job?
Go to the mall and talk to somebody who works at a hot dog stand and ask them about their job. They go to work at 9 a.m., work until 6 p.m., maybe get two five-minute breaks in the day, make $6.25 an hour before taxes, and they’re on their feet all day. They’re working in conditions that are physically and mentally draining. So they’re making maybe $100 a day before taxes for doing 9 hours of hard physical work. You look at that and look at what I’m doing, making $1,000 for two hours doing what I really love doing, which for me is not degrading and is something I feel safe in, you tell me which industry is demeaning?
People say the porn industry is demeaning, but being in a service industry is degrading in and of itself. You’re basically being stepped on. Any job I would’ve gotten as a minimum wage worker would’ve been exploitative, degrading to me, and not provided the money I needed to make, which was $4,000 month. So why would I work 80 hours a week, struggle with school, barely get any sleep and be treated like a second class citizen, when I can do porn for 14 hours a day , make thousands, set my own hours, and have a ton of fun doing it?
Read the whole thing.
Reading this piece, I wondered how Richard Brodhead, president of Duke can sleep at night.
If I were president of an elite university and read in the paper that the combination of my school’s tuition costs and financial aid policies had driven a female freshman to become a sex worker in order to pay her tuition bills, I’d be tossing and turning all night as I thought about what I needed to do about it.
Yes, it is true that young college students do not always have good judgement, and some of them will inevitably make bad choices. But I cannot imagine how the chief executive of a university with such a student could avoid feeling a sense of personal responsibility for the state of affairs in which tuition cost have risen to such a point and where student loans commonly create such a crushing burden that one young woman would make such a choice. The president of that particular university ought to feel that his own policies and administration have, ultimately, turned him into the equivalent of a pimp.
I think that Richard Brodhead when he got up the next morning, after reading the news stories, ought to have summoned “Lauren” to his office as the first thing. He should have talked to her like a Dutch uncle, and explained to her that she had made a serious mistake, one which she would inevitably later profoundly regret, and told her that much of it was his own fault. He should urge to relinquish her part-time cinematic career, and in return offer her full tuition assistance.
He should then arrange a meeting with his financial officers and senior administrators to initiate steps to cut excess spending, reduce numbers of superfluous administrators and staff, and to cut tuition costs drastically while increasing grants of aid to middle-class students.
If Richard Brodhead does not feel personally obligated to do all that, I’d say that he ought to buy a big floppy hat with a feather, a flashy purple suit, and start driving an enormous Cadillac.