Christian College Expels Lesbian Student, Then Demands Repayment of Scholarships

When Danielle Powell fell in love with the woman she would marry, it ended up costing her nearly $6,000 — and her education.

Danielle Powell, right, and her wife Michelle Rogers (Nati Harnik – Associated Press)

Powell was finishing her psychology degree at Grace University in Omaha, Nebraska, when she started openly dating Michelle Rogers. Unfortunately for her, Grace isn’t your ordinary college, but a private Christian school that requires its students uphold a rigid code of “moral” conduct:

Grace University’s code of conduct for its students is strict: No kissing, no prolonged hugs and certainly no premarital sex. The school even monitors students’ television habits, forbidding HBO, MTV, Comedy Central and several other channels “because of the values they promote.” The rules are laid out in a student handbook and signed by students every year.

“No one was more surprised than me,” Powell recalled of her relationship. “I had been very religious since I was a small child, and that did not fit in with what I thought I believed.”

Last January, the university confronted her about the relationship and suspended her. To be considered for readmission, Powell had to undergo months of mandatory counseling, church attendance, spiritual training and mentoring, in addition to promising she wouldn’t engage in premarital sex. She obliged.

She was readmitted, but only briefly. Just a few days letter, Powell received a letter from the university’s vice president, Michael James, informing her that she was expelled.

James wrote that her re-admittance had been based on professions she made to various faculty and staff that she would change her behavior, but that “the prevailing opinion is that those professions appear to have been insincere, at best, if not deceitful.”

“I was livid,” Powell said. “I had done everything they asked me to do. I drove over to my mentors’ house and just bawled my eyes out.”

To make matters worse and prove their “values” once and for all, Grace University sent Powell a bill for $6,000, the tuition cost for her unfinished semester that should have been covered by federal loans, grants and scholarships. The school even refused to submit the proper transcripts and credits for her to transfer to another university unless she paid off the tuition she says should have been covered.

School officials declined to discuss specifics of Powell’s case, citing federal student privacy laws, but through a public relations agency said it would provide Powell official transcripts and transfer her credits.

Powell is skeptical. She noted that nine months after she was expelled in January 2012, the registrar’s office denied her request for her transcripts because of the bill, though she eventually received student copies of her transcripts.

Powell’s wife has launched a Change.org petition asking that the school take back its financial demands; as of Saturday it has close to 40,000 signatures. She writes:

Danielle dreamed of completing her degree at Grace University in Omaha, Nebraska and becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college. She earned scholarships to cover her tuition and, for 3 ½ years, contributed to the school both academically and in extracurricular activities, including playing on the volleyball team and starting an on-campus homeless outreach in Omaha’s downtown area.

In the spring 2011, that dream came to an end when university officials found out Danielle was in a same-sex relationship and expelled her from school just one semester short of graduation. She was told, “…it would be impossible for the faculty of Grace University to affirm your Christian character, a requirement for degree conferral.” Danielle’s life was completely turned upside down and her academic career ended simply because she fell in love with another woman.

The comments on this Associated Press article about the incident are disappointing, with a number of people dismissing Powell as a misguided girl who simply broke a contract with her school and must suffer the consequences. But the problem is much bigger than that: it’s about the culture of religious universities that impose their so-called “values” on students rather than acknowledge their own prejudice. These schools refuse to acknowledge that there’s more than one way to be a Christian, so when circumstances like this arise, they shatter a student’s life with no harm to the school at all. Isn’t it easy to blame your bigotry on a breach of contract?

Not to mention that while the school may have had the right to expel her, they displayed none of their so-called “grace” in charging her tuition costs for a semester when she wasn’t even in class.

There’s no question that Powell was a valuable member of the Grace University community who deserves far better than how she was treated. The real question, though, is why she’d choose to attend such a hateful school in the first place.

About Camille Beredjick

Camille is a recent college graduate working in the LGBT nonprofit industry. She runs an LGBT news blog at gaywrites.org.

  • DougI

    Extortion is clearly a Christian value the school has no problem with.

  • Jasper

    “Unfortunately for her, Grace isn’t your ordinary college, but a private Christian school that requires its students uphold a rigid code of “moral” conduct:”

    I look forward to the day when the public consciousness raises to the point where people stop investing in these deranged institutions. Clearly, it’s not common knowledge yet.

  • Glasofruix

    No kissing, no prolonged hugs and certainly no premarital sex.
    The school even monitors students’ television habits, forbidding HBO,
    MTV, Comedy Central and several other channels “because of the values
    they promote.

    You mean they treat young adults like kids?

    • Agrajag

      Nah, worse than kids. Most kids hug.

    • ariofrio

      A misguided way to promote a sexuality integrated with the whole person.

  • Bob Becker

    The college”imposed” its views/standards only on those who voluntarily chose to enroll. However benighted and intolerant sensible people might think those “standards” to be, as a private college the school was, is and should be free to embrace them. And students who knowingly enroll under them and sign the pledge each year have little grounds for complaint when the rules they freely agreed to abide by are enforced.

    • smrnda

      When it came time for me to go to college, I was a privileged, upper middle class kid with good grades and even some relevant work experience living in a really large city. I had options when I decided where to go to school.

      This person clearly didn’t have the options that I did. These ‘pledges’ are made between two parties so unequal in terms of power that they are coercive, not voluntary. They’re voluntary pledges the way that there were ‘free elections’ in the Soviet Union.

      • Bob Becker

        First, we don’t know what options she had. Her scholarships/ grants seem to have been federal money and so would have been available at other schools. And at some point, young people have to be responsible for the decisions they make. She made a poor one. But being offered admission and financial aid by a private college, religious or not, cannot reasonably be called “coercive.”

        • alwr

          She would have had several less expensive options directly in the Omaha Metro area. Nebraska’s public college tuition for residents is among the lowest in the nation. I understand if she made the choice as a high school senior with pressure from family and some sense of agreeing with Grace’s belief system. But when she realized or came to terms with her sexuality, she should have pursued other options and they exist in the area.

    • phantomreader42

      They still don’t get to charge for services not rendered, and lie about the bill.

      • Bob Becker

        Well, every U I’ve worked for ( all public) had deadline dates for withdrawing, beyond which you got no refund of tuition. Nor did they provide transcripts unless all debts owed the U ( parking fines, fees, lost book fines, etc.) had been cleared. I suspect a lot of the outrage being expressed here stems from the fact that it’s a fundie Christian college involved.

        • phantomreader42

          She didn’t withdraw, the school lied to her and forced her to leave. They are not refusing to give a refund, they are demanding extra payment for classes they refused to let her attend. Your desperate attempts to defend these bigoted assholes do not match reality.

          • Bob Becker

            Again, going only on the info provided by the article posted, the school seems to be claiming she had not ended her relationship and so was expelled. The third paragraph from the end makes it clear the poster is annoyed that GU is Christian fundie college. My point simply is GU has a right to be a Christian fundie u. if it wants to, and to require students to adhere to its definition of a Christian moral code of conduct, and to discipline them if they don’t. I’m an atheist and would never enroll at such a place, but if ever I did I’d be consenting to live by that code of conduct while enrolled.

  • Rain

    no prolonged hugs

    Naturally they hypocritically make exceptions for athletes of course. Just like every other college I guess.

    http://s18.postimg.org/igmc0fbnd/summer_event_L_Frame_007.png

    • Space Cadet

      That’s the Christian Side Hug, which is totes okay ’cause the naughty bits don’t touch.

      • TheG

        There’s no way for bits to lock in that way. As I learned in my evangelical youth group, you can even sleep head to toe next to each other and that god is totes cool with it.

        • closetatheist

          what? the naughty bits still line up that way! like usual, religious rules on sex and foreplay make no sense in the real world.

        • Drew M.

          Elaine Benes, is that you?

  • C Peterson

    I find it hard to sympathize. She agreed to abide by a set of rules, which I assume includes not being homosexual. Utterly, completely crazy, of course, but those were the rules and the college can (for now) legally apply them.

    Certainly, this poor woman needs counseling. Not the sort she was getting from the school, of course. But there’s something seriously wrong that she wanted to go to this place at all, and even more so that she’d endure their conditions in an effort to remain there.

    The college is a miserable, unethical institution. But they made no secret of that when she applied. It’s like sending your kid to KKK summer camp and then being shocked when he beats up black kids at school.

    • Ibis3

      a) There was likely family pressure to go there.
      b) She likely believed in the basic doctrines when she first enrolled, and only changed her mind gradually over time.
      c) Expelling her is within their rights, but making her go through a rigmarole only to expel her anyway? Not just. Charging her fees for the semester she’s not attending? Not just. Not providing her transcripts so she can transfer to another school? Not just.

      • C Peterson

        To be clear, I’m in no way defending the actions of the school, which I consider highly unethical.

        But what happened to Ms Powell was the result of very bad choices she herself made. We can try to create all sorts of extenuating circumstances, but in the end, we are still responsible for our actions. She made a bad choice, and the consequences could have been worse. Hopefully she learned from her mistake… that is the value of mistakes, after all.

        Even more valuable is that by publicizing this incident, her mistake may have positive influence on others- either steering students away from Grace University (they should be sued for false advertising over that name!) or providing one more tiny nudge to society’s drift away from religion.

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          I see your point. I sympathize because this could easily have happened to me. I covered my tracks pretty well until my last year and certainly wasn’t out publicly on campus, but if they’d wanted to kick me out for being gay it wasn’t that well kept a secret (enough people knew). They would not, however, have wanted the bad publicity from this sort of thing. In any case it sucks to be her right now.

          • C Peterson

            What school?

        • smrnda

          You make it sound like there is a ‘choice’ in these matters. I doubt she really ever had any meaningful choice at all. We’re only responsible for our actions insofar as we’re really free to make choices one way or the other.

          The other thing is, contracts like this, even between private parties, ought to be considered human rights violations and be illegal. Nobody, ever, should attempt to get this amount of control over another person. No adult should be able to even ask another adult to sign a contract regulating the other adult’s sexual behavior, whether they hug someone for a long period of time, or what they watch on TV.

          • Agrajag

            Indeed. We’re talking *adults* here who are not allowed, by contract, to give or receive “prolonged hugs” or to watch MTV. That’s beyond ridicolous. There’s simply no way “contracts” like that should be upheld in a civilized society.

          • C Peterson

            I do think there is a choice. Arguing otherwise seems to me demeaning to the person involved.

            I agree that contracts like this essentially amount to human rights violations. But they are private contracts that nobody has to agree to. In a perfect world, they wouldn’t exist. Trying to ban them (especially in the case of a completely private institution fundamentally founded on a particular ethical code) might lead to unintended consequences.

        • Trickster Goddess

          It really bothers me when I hear people refusing sympathy or support to someone because their unfortunate situation is the results of “choices” they made and thus they “deserve” whatever happens to them.

          You hear it so often when privileged people talk about the “deserving poor” vs. the “undeserving poor”. If a person is living in the street because they got laid off and can’t afford a place to live, then they should be helped. But if someone is homeless because they developed an addiction to alcohol or drugs, well too bad, it was their “choice” to take drugs therefore we shouldn’t help them and we are justified in letting them die in the gutter.

          It is like those people who insist “rules are rules” no matter how unjust or stupid those rules happen to be.

          I’ve also heard so many times particularly from christian types who insist “there must be consequences!” when someone is in a unfortunate situation because of a bad decision. Well I, you and everyone else who is human has at times done something stupid or made a bad choice. The difference is that most of us did it in a time, place or circumstance where nothing untoward happened because of it, so we were spared any “consequences”.

          The selective empathy shown by these kinds of people is very disgusting. When someone is down and out or in a bad situation, they deserve our help in getting back on their feet no matter how they ended up there. Anything else is hypocritical.

          • C Peterson

            Perhaps your ability to feel sympathy is simply greater than mine. For me, it’s not a matter of “refusing” sympathy, it’s simply not there. I can’t turn it on and off! And it’s not like I’m saying she’s a bad person, for heaven’s sake.

            There are lots of people in bad situations largely through actions outside their control, and I do feel sympathy for such people. Nothing I have read about Ms Powell leads me to believe that describes her. She made a bad choice, she suffered some consequences.

            In fact, however, I might make an argument that she didn’t really get hurt by what happened, but benefited. She learned an important lesson about the sort of beliefs she had taken for granted, she escaped from a foul institution, she seems to have developed a degree of social activism. I think she came out ahead.

          • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

            Word

      • Stev84

        There is also the possibility that she didn’t know she was gay when she joined. College is the time when many people – gay or straight – figure out their sexuality. People realizing they are gay in their late teens and early 20s – or coming to terms with it – happens all the time. It was the same with DADT. A lot of people joined then military at 17-18 and only figured it out later. So saying that they agreed with it when they joined is just BS.

        Moreover, they have no way to justify withholding the credits for the courses she already completed. Expelling her is one thing, but they can’t hold her academic achievements hostage like that.

        • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

          “There is also the possibility that she didn’t know she was gay when she joined.”

          Well sure, but she clearly thought it was OK to sign up with the homophobes. It’s pretty despicable to be on board with bigotry just because you think you’re not going to be the target of it.

  • ORAXX

    Although I think this school’s behavior is reprehensible, at some point it needs to be asked why this woman was attending this school in the first place. She did, after all, agree to their rules when she enrolled. There are other universities in the area that are not only far cheaper but, much better academically.

  • kielc

    So, um, it appears Grace University has no clue what the word “grace” means.

    • Spazticus

      Well, sure, they know what it means, but have little intention to show it publicly. Concepts like “humility” and “grace” are easily cast aside in favor of “morality” being used to make a point. Why show forgiveness, when they can try to make an example out of someone?

    • Stev84

      In Christianese is means something completely different than in English. Just like so many other words.

    • rwlawoffice

      So a person who violates the rules that she agreed to abide by and when she is called on it and held to that standard, the school is wrong? In order to show “grace” the school should ignore its rules that they expect everyone to follow and should treat this student differently just because she is homosexual?

      • baal

        oh look. It’s you.

        In the normal human world of word usage, ‘grace’ implies forgiveness and being just better than everyone else. In this context, that means understanding the emotions of the expelled lesbian student and not then adding economic injury to the insult of the expulsion. In other words, kicking some one when they are down is not graceful.

        RW – do you know that every time to you trot out legalese to defend the bad acts of the powerful, you make all christians look like asshats?

        • rwlawoffice

          Good job not answering the question. Does she get a pass on lying and taking a scholarship under false pretenses because she happens to be a lesbian?

          • baal

            Good job on not deal with the right issue.

          • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

            1) It sounds like she got outside grants, loans, and scholarships. Grace refused to take the money from the federal government and outside sources. They want her money and no one else’s. Apparently lesbian tears make money worth more.

            2) She didn’t sign under false pretenses. She didn’t know that she was lesbian. She wasn’t lying. When the circumstances under which contracts were signed change drastically, a renegotiation is in order. Corporations understand this and do it on a regular basis; you, of all people, should know that. Why is this contract sacrosanct?

            3) Nowhere does it say she was having sex with her girlfriend. Being gay != having sex, just like being straight != having sex. The school told her she had to attend counseling and prayer sessions; she did. She was told she couldn’t have sex; it appears she complied with that too. She jumped through all their (non contractually required) hoops, and they still expelled her and are trying to make her pay for classes she was prohibited from taking.

            EDIT: 4) Contracts go both ways. She signed a contract to follow the rules; in return, she’d get a good education in both academics and character. Well, Grace failed utterly to teach or model good character and has thus abrogated its contractual obligations to her. This renders any obligations on her part of the contract null and void.

            • rwlawoffice

              You make quite a few assumptions that at least by this post doesn’t appear to have basis in evidence.

              So the school should take money from the federal govt. and scholarships for a student that they expelled and thus lie to them about her being an enrolled student? Her enrollment is one of the requirements of taking those payments.

              As for Grace not teaching her character, it appears that they tried but she failed that portion of her education.

              • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                Well, if she was expelled, she shouldn’t have to pay for the classes she didn’t take, right? Either she is on the hook for the money (in which case that’s what her scholarships, grants, and loans are for) or she isn’t, in which case why is she being extorted for over $6,000?

                Grace obviously didn’t even try to teach character. They said, “if you do this prayer and counseling stuff, you’ll be allowed to graduate” and then kicked her out anyways. They kicked her out not for pre-marital sex (there is no evidence that she was having any) but for daring to be attracted to the wrong people. They kicked her out for an immutable characteristic (sexual orientation) and not for any actions on her part (having sex she promised not to). And then on top of that, they’re acting like petty tyrants by denying her access to transcripts and transfer credits.

                Are they within their legal right to do so? Yeah. An institution that wanted to model grace, charity, and forgiveness wouldn’t do that, though. So yeah, the institution is utterly failing to model good character and is thus voiding its half of the contractual obligations. She should be able to sue them for back tuition!

                • rwlawoffice

                  The post indicates that they did not believe her that she abided by the requirements for reinstatement.

              • baal

                Grats on the continued missing the point RW (and the derail to focus on the Wrong-Thing ™). The problem is kicking a person when they are down and not your pseudo-legal points.

                Further, if the school has a valid debt, they get to go after all creditors equally. That they appear to go after just a person and not other institutions implies Grace has ill motive.

                • rwlawoffice

                  I understand the point that everyone is trying to make. I don’t agree with it. From the facts as explained in the article, she violated the rules, she was given an opportunity to go through some steps to be reinstated, the school believes that she lied when she said she followed those steps and she was expelled.

                  The article does not indicate if other students who are expelled must also pay for their tuition. If so then she is being treated no different than anyone else. If on the other hand the facts show that other expelled students are forgiven their debts than the school should treat her the same way. But there is no indication they do that so she should not get special treatment.

                  By the way, where was this grace you speak about when a counselor was expelled from school in her last semester after she referred a student seeking counseling to another counselor when the counseling would violate the students religious beliefs? The cry here was for this counselor to be expelled and treated like a bigot. (Julea Ward)

      • C Peterson

        Acting legally (which the school did) isn’t the same as doing the right thing (which I think most people would agree the school did not).

        The school should not ignore its rules at all. The school should have ethical, humanist rules to begin with.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    These champions of superstition and intolerance are teaching psychology?? That’s chilling. Danielle will be much better off getting re-educated at a rational university, and if she ever uses psychology as a professional, the people with whom she’ll work will be better off too.

  • closetatheist

    I thought Christians were supposed to “love the sinner but hate the sin”? Or at least “love your enemy” – and they certainly seem to believe this woman is their enemy…With their spiteful, vengeful, and backstabbing attitude it would seem that the concept of love, or even common decency has been lost on the entire administration.

    • 3lemenope

      They treat sins (I think mostly unconsciously) as analogous to something communicable, like a virus. So, unsurprisingly, they tend to act akin to hypochondriacs and germophobes when confronted with a person or behavior that is forbidden to them.

      Their abject often panicked terror of getting sin on them, catching sinfulness, would be quite amusing if it weren’t so hideously destructive.

      • baal

        Contagion is the near neighbor of ‘Purity’. I’d argue that it’s a type of thinking and cousin to fear based reasoning (but that’d be a long post).

  • Tony

    I love how their student handbook categorizes homosexuality as “sexual misconduct.” Why is that Christians can’t seem to understand that homosexuality is an orientation, not a sexual fetish? The student handbook, as well as the faculty, just assume that homosexual = having sex. They can’t even imagine someone being gay but not being sexually active.

    It’s honestly kind of creepy how upon hearing the word “gay” their minds automatically jump to “gay sex.” Christians are obsessed with gay sex.

  • smrnda

    I notice that if anything like this happens, you see the true colors of Christian institutions. No “Christ like forgiveness” or turning the other cheek, but they make sure to be as vindictive and punitive as possible.

    • Hope

      Don’t forget judgmental.

  • pagansister

    Most unfortunate I think is that Danielle decided to go to a “Christian” university, and then that university ‘screwed” her over one semester from graduation. Really? One semester—and they say “sorry” you aren’t worth graduating since you fell in love with another woman. She apparently had all the academic qualifications needed to that point, and would have completed those classes in time to graduate. To add to the sh*t they want more money from her!! Truly a sad situation. AND so “Christian” too!

  • Hope

    I have a T-shirt that says it all. It says,: “Don’t use Jesus as an excuse for being a narrow minded, bigoted asshole”.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    ” but a private Christian school ”

    What part of private do you not understand?


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