TUSCALOOSA, AL — A brief stroll around the University of Alabama’s Harris Hall, will tell you that the school’s on-campus population isn’t exactly starving college kids.
It’s eight am on a Tuesday, and a line bends around the building and into the street. The people in line? Tourists from around the world that have paid a pretty penny to see how “poor college students” live.
“Paying exorbitant prices to see how the poor live is a personal passion of mine,” said Walter Bergen, a 43-year-old investment banker from New York City, who stood in line with his wife and two kids.
“Two years ago we spent hundreds on the favela tour in Rio and got all these beautiful pictures of exotic slums and impoverished people. But I have a feeling this dorm tour will be even better. It’s great because you kinda feel like you’re giving back to the less fortunate,” Bergen added.
Inside, the dorm’s freshmen and sophomores prepare their rooms for the 9am showing known as the “breakfast visit,” where tourists can watch students wake up and walk through a landmine of empty beer cans to microwave their breakfast hot pockets.
Rosemary Rivera, the dorm’s Resident Advisor says her room often generates the most interest from tourists.
“There’s usually a bottleneck here because these well-to-do types are shocked that even though it is my job to look after and protect these students, I have to live in the same conditions they do and get paid in breakfast hot pockets, that I then have to share with the students.”
“One scene in particular that always guarantees a big tip for us is when one of the students and I approach the same (and only) microwave in the building with our same breakfast hot pockets.”
The tour, which was started in 2015 by a college student, is entirely student run, with the proceeds shared among the building’s residents.
Sanjay Patel, a resident on the first floor says the money has been very good.
“We make so much money from these tours that the lifestyle I’m portraying for guests doesn’t actually apply to me. I’ve got my own NutriBullet, Nespresso machine, and kitchenette in my room that I was able to buy with the proceeds. I keep all this stuff hidden under a heaping pile of “textbooks” I bought from a garage sale during the tours.
But Patel and his colleagues may not be living large for much longer. Earlier this year, the University discovered the operation and is now considering qualifying it as a “sport.” This would essentially allow the University to collect all the proceeds from the tours without giving the students a cent.
“This is college,” said Athletic Director, Greg Byrne “you’re here to learn and have fun, and we don’t have to pay you for that. Dorm tours are no different from football, we make money off of your hard work, likeness, skills, abilities, lifestyle, facial features, and more, and you get nothing in return. “
For Bergen, he doesn’t care who’s regulating the activities so long as people like him and his family can continue visiting.
“Whether it’s the favelas, these dorm tours, or any other trip to an exotic, poor slum, this system is a win-win. The people involved get much-needed funds and attention, we have a lot of fun, and most importantly, we feel like better people.”