PAHRUMP, Nevada (AP) — Nicki Amouri hands her camera to a friend, throws her arm over another and smiles wide as she leans in for a shot with the monument her class came to visit.
It’s a typical field trip memento — except that Amouri is visiting a brothel. The monument is a fluffy, queen-sized bed in a Western-themed party room reserved for VIPs and big spenders.
Amouri was one of a dozen Randolph College students who took a tour last week of the Chicken Ranch, a legal bordello in the desert 60 miles outside Las Vegas. The class trip, which included seminars from the working girls, capped a course on American consumption and “the ideas that consume us.”
“I think it’s fascinating, this is fun for me,” said Amouri, a junior at the private liberal arts school in Lynchburg, Virginia, that until last year admitted only women. “Not many people get to do this.”
Academic and media inquiries are daily occurrences at many of Nevada’s 27 legal brothels. Some shy away from the scrutiny; others, like the Chicken Ranch, welcome the publicity.
“We’re always open to trying to educate the public about legalized prostitution,” said Chicken Ranch general manager Debbie Rivenburgh, who acknowledged this was the first class tour request she’d received in 21 years.
The brothel tour was a natural fit for a class that tells students “don’t just study America — live it,” said Julio Rodriguez, the director of the college’s American Culture Program.
Each semester the course examines a strain of American culture and ends with a class trip. Past destinations included post-Katrina New Orleans, Walt Disney World and the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama.
This year’s focus on Nevada started with a professor’s interest in water rights and conservation. It grew to include discussions of the wedding and entertainment industries and, inevitably, prostitution.
Nevada is the only state where prostitution is legal. Brothels are allowed in 10 Nevada counties, though not in Las Vegas.
As part of their research, students were assigned “The Beauty Myth,” by feminist author Naomi Wolf, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” by Hunter S. Thompson, and a “20/20” episode on prostitution with Diane Sawyer, among other research, professors said.
“We gave them all the option to either opt out or express reservations privately. No one did,” said Rodriguez, adding that he received no objections from parents or administrators.
Prostitutes at the Chicken Ranch had plenty of reservations. Most don’t jump at the chance to talk to strangers about what they do, Rivenburgh said. They worry about friends or family finding out. They know how others see them. It can be uncomfortable.