Over the last week, you might have read about “Lauren,” the Duke freshman who recently had her secret identity as a porn star performer exposed by a fellow classmate. The reaction from her fellow Duke classmates was exactly what you’d expect—they were assholes.*

Taking the she’s-an-idiot, doesn’t-she-understand-privacy angle would be low-hanging fruit, so I’m forgoing it (Newsflash: teens tend not to be very future-oriented). Another angle would be to make it a story about hypocrisy, focusing on her women’s studies/sociology double major, her participation in College Republicans, her identification as a feminist and (bless her heart) a libertarian, or her aspiration to become a human rights lawyer. Sorry, I don’t write for The Daily Caller. “She had sex on camera for money, how did she think people would react if they found out?” This angle is, again, tempting, but, again, wrong. Porn performers are people, too. To suggest— as many Duke students have on various message boards—that Lauren is somehow deserving of harassment or abuse because she works in adult films sets us back about five decades, if not five centuries.

All of those angles have been covered and show that, true to form, the media has missed the point of this story. When you get past the titillating image of a sweet college co-ed taking it all off to pay for tuition, what’s this really about? Take a minute, read this interview, and think.

Ignore Lauren’s obnoxious “poor kids have it easy” and “service jobs are degrading” comments. Did you notice how she owns her choices one moment, then blames the school for leaving her with no alternatives the next? “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.” Lauren, either you’re responsible for your choice, or you’re not. Which is it? More importantly: is the cost of a Duke degree “worth” the choice you made about how to pay for it?

That’s the crux of the issue: Regardless of how Lauren feels about doing sex work, has she questioned the idea that a Women’s Studies degree from Duke University is actually worth the $180,000 she’s shelling out for it? Is it a worthwhile investment? Did she even shop around? (Per Lauren: “I was offered scholarships at a lot of places. I was offered full tuition at Vanderbilt.” *headdesk*). I’m not saying Duke isn’t a great school; I’m saying Lauren wants to make porn and work in public interest law, and these are things that don’t require a $180,000 Bachelor’s. Money which Lauren just doesn’t have. It’s madness.

Let’s talk about Lauren’s parents. She explains: “…my parents are paying $1,000 a month just for their own student loans and my dad graduated 20 years ago.” Seriously? And they let her matriculate at Duke? Her folks have apparently fallen into the kind of ass backwards, education-at-any-cost logic that’s gone mainstream thanks to the one-two assault of decades of easy credit (yes, that includes student loans) and the Price = Value fallacy of Higher Ed. We can argue whether college is still a good career move, but at some point, parents forgot how to be responsible and ask the important question: “at what price?”

Here’s a thought: If Lauren can make $1000 for a Saturday afternoon of work, why does she need Duke? She wants to be a public interest lawyer, but has she read about the deflated legal job market? Or the fact that public interest law typically doesn’t pay enough to manage law school debt? Why doesn’t Lauren instead move to California, transfer to a less expensive school, and get a job or internship on the production/business side of the adult industry? She can still shoot scenes to pay the bills and empower herself (her words), and she’ll be far more employable after graduation than she’d be with a sociology degree and (what many employers would consider) an unsavory work history. She could even keep law school on the table. And by my estimate, her risk of national exposure would be negligible, because – let’s be honest – ‘UCLA Student Becomes Porn Star to Pay for College’ is a less clickworthy headline than one that combines ‘Duke Student’ and ‘Porn.’ (Yeah, *yawn* that sounds like something those hippies would do over on the Left Coast.)

Lauren is just one example, but there are millions of students in similar situations. There are many paths to success beyond just Easy Degree from a Prestigious School + Law School. The current system encourages students who are not competitive for merit-based scholarships to go massively into debt—or shoot porn—so they can buy an increasingly devalued credential from what are essentially private hedge funds. That’s the real outrage.


*The propensity of (a subset of) men to deride the very same women they consume as masturbation fodder is one of the key reasons why many feminists have concluded that the male psyche is no longer fit to run things. 

  • Maddie Gootman

    Not that I know much of the Duke WS department curriculum, but don’t dismiss Women’s Studies or Gender studies as an “easy degree.” I am a WGS major at Vanderbilt, and the classes that I have taken for it have been some of the most thought provoking and the ones that gave me the best skills for many real world situations such as analysis, good writing structure, and a healthy dose of inquiry.

    Secondly, I don’t know how her decision to participate in pornography is antithetical or hypocritical to any of the activities that you listed above such as feminism, College Republicans, or a women’s studies degree.

    • AuntMerryweather

      I don’t mean to disrespect the social sciences as academic disciplines. I have no doubt that you get out of them what you put into them, and no Van Wilder is going to be able to BS his way through advanced gender theory. That said, the skills one learns from liberal arts and sociological sciences are inherently different than those picked up studying the hard sciences, and it’s not clear that the economy will every be able to absorb millions of trained World Religion majors (or law school grads) as readily as it will take on trained engineers and statisticians. The machinery that was in place for our parents and older siblings that guaranteed a job in exchange for just whatever 4-year degree is crumbling. In fact, I believe that the whole ship has sailed. (I say this as somebody who aced Econ and failed advanced calc… Twice.)

      (…Of course, EdX and other MOOCS raise the question of why, say, software engineers would need a 4-year-degree in the first place. My overall feelings toward college are that if you choose to go, get in and get out as quickly and as inexpensively as you can, and learn to do something economically productive while you’re there).

      Hypocrisy was the angle I’d guessed the Daily Caller would take, not my personal opinion: Republicans and PORN. Republican and FEMINIST. FEMINIST and PORN. etc. (Surprise: I was right).

  • Every expert in any endeavor I’ve ever encountered was self-taught.

    Passion and imagination are what make experts, not sheep-skin proclamations framed and hanging on the wall.

    I still have student loan debt from the 90s hangin’ over my head and my non-existent degree means nothing in the market. My experience does.

    It’s time we realized that government supported education, with its social advancement is worth less than the paper they hand you at graduation. It’s a Ponzi scheme of little or no value.

    As a Free-Spirit, I’ve been featured on the cover of Swingers magazines back in the day and my experience is that even those supposed to be above such indelicacies are as human as you or I.

    The Boot-Strap Expat

  • Kenneth Evan Powell III

    Wait a minute. So the “real” point that we are all missing is that Lauren is paying too much for a B.A. because she (and her parents) failed to be informed consumers?

    Well, okay. I suppose that is one way to look at it.

    • AuntMerryweather

      Do you think that a million students making the same dumb financial choices as Lauren won’t have a bigger impact on the economy than the fact that a student does porn to pay for college? Because I’m arguing that it will.

      • Kenneth Evan Powell III

        It just might. I get that. I just don’t think that is the central lesson to be gathered from this story. I dare say it is a borderline digression. It would be like me suggesting that the “real” point to be gleaned from the Duke Lacrosse rape case was one concerning a need for uniformity in processing photo identification, since flaws in said process gave an unfair advantage to the defense. I mean, that is all true, and it is important in its own right. But it is but one variable in a large case that has as its central lesson something far broader in scope. Same can be said here. Though if you must go this route, wouldn’t the more pertinent question be why is higher education so expensive in the first place? The answer as to why teenagers fresh out of high school make poor financial decisions seems rather obvious to me, at least.