|Reia Chapman, MSW student at Savannah State University |
During her enrollment in nursing school from 1955 to 1958 my Nana gave blood, shined shoes and mended people’s clothes to pay her way through. Back then the cost of tuition hovered around less than $100 a semester. Today the average student can expect to pay, at minimum, around $5000 a semester for an undergraduate education.
Among the many aspects of the new Debt Ceiling Deal introduced by Congress on Tuesday, it will scrap subsidized student loans forcing graduate students to pay interest on the principle balance of their loans while enrolled in school.
Personally, I can’t afford it. No matter how I spin it, my financial situation isn’t flexible enough to adhere to Congress’s requirement. Upon the realization that my plight for higher education may be stifled because of irresponsible spending by negligent political leaders I took my grievance to Facebook. The responses surprised me, but they shouldn’t have – the answer is as old as time.
While giving blood in the 1950s may have been lucrative enough to help my Nana pay for school today sex work seems to be a feasible option for some students. Reia Chapman, an MSW student at Savannah State University in Georgia said that she supports student’s decisions to engage in sex work to pay for higher education.
“I didn’t grow up in an environment where sex work was an acceptable means of employment and sustainability,” Chapman said. There are a lot of biases and stereotypes we hold about it but I’ve just started to appreciate the empowerment in a person who decides that that is a viable option to get what they need.”
Sex workers, sometimes pejoratively referred to as street economists, brave hairy and dangerous politics around the criminalization of their trade. Unlike other countries, prostitution is illegal in the U.S. and due to the stigma and polarization of their work, sex workers often face high levels of violence and isolation.
“I don’t think it’s instinctive for people to identify their bodies as a means of collateral but when forced with tough decisions people stretch themselves to consider options they wouldn’t normally. I mean as opposed to robbing a bank …” Chapman said.
I asked my Nana if she thought anybody in her nursing school participated in sex work to pay their way through. She said that sex workers and college students were two different classes of people and she couldn’t imagine anybody doing that back then. The dehumanizing attitude toward sex workers and other street economists says that sentiment still exists today. We don’t assume college students are stitched from the same moral fabric as those involved in informal street economics but according to the Sex Education journal published in the UK, 16.5 percent of undergraduate students would consider working in the sex industry.
“There are all different types of ways to participate in the sex trade,” said Chapman. “I’ve never considered actually participating in sex work but I think that I would definitely be open to massages and role playing.”
Kristye Russell, a pharmaceutical student at the University of Michigan, said she’d consider reworking her family planning and have children before she graduates so she could use the tax break to help pay for school.
“I will just have to have one or two babies before I graduate so that I can use the refund for having dependents to pay back the interests on my loans estimated to be at $220,000 when I graduate,” she said.
Other options considered were donating eggs, surrogacy and giving plasma.
“If you think about it you either get taxed, and I mean TAXED for not having children, or you get taxed for seeking a higher education to be competitive in a severely handicapped employment market, I was planning on having children anyway,” Russell continued.
Concepts of bodily integrity and sustainable self-determination aren’t new but the rising breach of economic security to people seeking higher education informs us that now, more than ever, people are considering allowing their bodies to work for them. Although sex workers incomes cannot be accounted for, revenue generated from global sex trade exceeds 100 billion dollars and while money isn’t the only motivator it has certainly peaked the interest of some.