Photo Courtesy Dafna Laskin
Jamie's unique tatoos, as seen during her act.
Editor's Note: The student in this story has requested that we not reveal her real name. We have changed her name to protect her privacy and to ensure her safety.
Jamie is just one of thousands of students trying to make ends meet, academically and financially. She spends long hours studying for exams and writing papers and does extra credit research in psychology, sometimes pulling all-nighters like any other college student. But by 5:00 p.m. on Thursdays, Jamie isn't just a student. At 5 o'clock, Jamie, petite, pierced, and tattooed, takes the stage as a stripper.
That's how she pays for college.
Jamie's father died when she was 9, leaving her mother to raise three kids alone. She doesn't qualify for enough aid to cover the $17,000 in tuition and fees for an in-state student. She knows that there are private education loans, but she doesn't want to leave college deeply in debt, like many of her classmates. So, when she won $1,000 in an amateur stripping contest the summer before her sophomore year, the answer to her financial troubles appeared.
"The bar I was in wanted me to work right away," said Jamie, in a recent lunchtime interview, keeping her voice low in the crowded dining hall as she spoke about her work. "It was a dump and I didn't want to work in Massachusetts, so I went to [the Gold Club in] Hartford and they took me … I made almost $300 my first night."
Jamie worked the rest of the summer, keeping the job a secret from her mother, who thought she was working late nights as a bartender and would scale back her hours when school started in late August. "She didn't want me staying out until 2 in the morning when I had class the next day. I'm sure if she knew what I was really doing, she wouldn't want me out there at all," Jamie said.
When classes started, Jamie, who by now was pulling in an average of $500 a night as a club favorite, convinced the owners that she couldn't work Thursdays or weekends before midterms and finals. In truth, she said, work didn't have much of an effect on her academics. "I was doing fine, decent grades, getting my papers done, studying in the club dressing room sometimes while everyone got ready to go on stage," said Jamie.
She continued her work at the Gold Club all through sophomore year with positive results: over the course of about 30 weekends, Jamie said she made nearly $12,000, most of which went to tuition and fees. "The money was too good not to do it," Jamie said, "and I didn't feel like I was doing something disgusting or degrading. I just need the money, like most of the other girls do."
But the summer before junior year, Jamie's situation changed. "I met Rob on MySpace and we started dating in July," Jamie said, referring to her current boyfriend, a singer in a local band. "He didn't know me well enough to trust me or feel comfortable with me stripping, so I had to stop." Besides, Jamie was starting to feel unsafe. Male customers would approach her in the parking lot as she walked to her car, offering her hundreds of dollars to go home with them. "It got to the point where the bouncers had to walk me to my car every night and I didn't feel comfortable anymore," Jamie said.