’Hurst ‘Live in a Bus’ campaign demeans students, education

Ryan Kushner, Opinion editor

When browsing social media, I usually spend the majority of my time feeling embarrassed by high school pictures of myself that reemerge on occasion. Apparently, I was under the impression that fanny packs were a desirable clothing option back then.

However, this summer I spent a significant amount of my social media time feeling embarrassed, not by my sad 15-year-old mustache, but by a promotion, highlighted by our prestigious university, known as “Live in a Bus and Tuition’s on Us.”

Mercyhurst North East and the popular Erie radio station Happi 92.7-FM teamed up this year to offer free books and tuition (the equivalent of $35,000) at Mercyhurst North East to the lucky student who could endure living on a 48-seat school bus for the longest period of time. The contest was closely monitored and broadcast by Happi 92.7, and Mercyhurst got in on the publicity posting pictures and updates of the event and on its website and social media accounts as well.

This disappointing PR stunt is embarrassing on two levels. First, the contest trivialized the quality education that Mercyhurst provides, and has provided for nearly 90 years–likening the work and legacy of the Sisters of Mercy to the cash prize awarded at the end of “Survivor.”

Second, and much more importantly, it took advantage of earnest individuals who lacked the monetary means of paying the considerably high price of a Mercyhurst education. Mercyhurst exploited the needs of these individuals in the interest of shameless self-promotion. The Happi 92.7 radio station is obviously guilty of this too (and was, I presume, the mastermind behind this kitsch “reality show” idea), but I don’t care about them. I can get all my Taylor Swift songs on YouTube.

Higher education has always been a privilege, and one that is aggressively sought after by people all over the world looking for a better life. This has perhaps never been more apparent than now, with tuition fees skyrocketing all over the country and the burden of student loans crippling those fortunate enough to graduate. To take advantage of this situation and use it for marketing or entertainment purposes is in bad taste. What’s next, a game show modeled after The Bachelor where we have to charm Luke the Laker for a meal plan? Just give me the rose, you Irish bastard!

What seemed to be the most important rule or “catch” of the competition was the scarcity in which contestants were allowed to exit the bus without being disqualified.

“Contestants will be allowed several carefully timed breaks each day to use restroom and shower facilities,” Mercyhurst explained in a promotional article on its website. “Aside from these breaks, however, the bus will be monitored around the clock to ensure participants don’t leave. Leaving the bus during unauthorized times will result in elimination from the contest.”

It seems that contestants were essentially caged in the bus like so many animals – even most convicts are at least allowed a toilet in their cell. Does timing the bathroom use of these underprivileged individuals sound like the work of an institution that claims to be “socially merciful” in a manner that “restores human dignity?”

If Mercyhurst has the means to give away free tuition, why not do it in a way that uplifts the human spirit? Is that not as marketable? Where was the Office of Mission Integration when this bizarre marketing stunt was approved?

After the competition came to a close, 54 days after beginning, Mercyhurst “graciously” awarded the tuition prize to the three remaining contestants.

When profiling one of the winners, 23, on their website, Mercyhurst wrote: “Though it’s been a bummer missing out on summer, and there was that night they left the emergency exit on the bus ceiling open and it rained inside, [the contestant has] enjoyed living rent-free.” Ha ha? Isn’t this charming and fun?

Another recipient of the prize, a 28-year-old mother of three, “endured 54 days of sleeping on the bus (‘the worst,’ she said),” and the third winner, 28, was quoted by the university as saying “I have not enjoyed the 50-degree nights, and trying to fit on the bench seats to sleep.”

Perhaps a more accurate name for the contest next summer would be “Live in a Bus and Discomfort, Humiliation, Dehumanization and (Possibly) Tuition’s on Us.”