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.