Dear Voice editors,
In her May 2014 feature article, “Tricks for Tuition,” Barbara Lehtiniemi chastises sex working students, telling us that ?Reality is hard work, long hours, conflicting obligations, and difficult choices.?
Not for nothing: so is sex work.
I started doing sex work casually as a teenager, when I was living on my own and needed more than I could afford. After I went to university and found that the maximum student loans available to me wouldn’t cover my cost of living, I began escorting formally, with a website, advertising, a rented hotel room and regular clients. I never liked the work, but it never ?cheapened? me either.
Sex work gave me the money I needed to pull myself out of the poverty I was born into. I completed my undergraduate education at AU, and I went on to graduate studies in the MA-IS program. I expect to apply to PhD programs in November. I am proud of what I’ve achieved, and I would love to use my full name?if only I didn’t fear the employment discrimination that would come with that decision.
Lehtiniemi writes that perhaps those of us who do sex work to pay our tuition simply don’t deserve an education: ?If someone has to sacrifice their personal values to pay for their education, maybe they need to examine whether they can afford it.? After all, aren’t there jobs that don’t require a university degree? This statement reveals the regressive attitude ? towards the poor and towards education ? behind the article.
Education is more than employment training. My education in literature taught me about how people around the world use art and writing to resist injustice, to heal grief, to communicate across generations and to express the inexpressible. It taught me to empathize, a skill that articles such as Lehtiniemi’s demonstrate is still sorely lacking in the world. It helped me to understand the world I live in and to express the values and ideals that I believe can make the world a better place. It gave me the skills and confidence required to talk back to people who would devalue me based on who I’ve had sex with, how often and for what reasons.
What entitles Barbara Lehtiniemi to the singular, life-changing experience of higher education, and not me? The anti-poor sentiment loaded into the statement that only those who can afford education deserve to access it is far more offensive to me than sex with strangers could ever be. For that reason, I recommend that Lehtiniemi interrogate her own values, before attacking her fellow students about ours.
MA-IS student, Athabasca University