It’s no secret that many Christian-affiliated colleges enforce very strict behavioral expectations for their students, but Danielle Powell is realizing just how vindictive a college can be when those expectations are not met. She had enrolled in Grace University in Omaha, Nebraska, but was expelled in the spring of 2011, just months before graduating, after it was discovered she was in a relationship with another woman. Now, the school is demanding she pay back $6,000, claiming she has to repay her federal loans and grants since she did not finish the semester.
The Department of Education says any money she may or may not owe the school is between the two of them and “not at all because of federal rules.” On the other hand, there are also no rules requiring the university not to discriminate based on sexual orientation when receiving financial aid from the federal government, so it’s unclear territory. Powell actually attempted to follow through on the remediation plan the school originally laid out for her, which included months of church attendance, Christian counseling, and promises not to engage in sex. She was readmitted, then promptly kicked out again because the staff’s “prevailing opinion is that those professions appear to have been insincere, at best, if not deceitful.” In other words, Grace is essentially fining a former student for not convincing the faculty she is straight enough to complete her education there.
Grace’s Student Handbook includes a litany of rules all students are required to sign and abide by. For example, students are not allowed to watch HBO, VH1, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, or any R-rated movie on campus. It also includes severe limitations on displays of affection, explicitly prohibiting activities like “extending holding or embracing one another,” “lying next to each other,” kissing, and “giving backrubs/rubbing shoulders.” “Homosexual acts” are considered “sexually immoral behavior” and thus a “Level-Three violation,” which at minimum includes University Probation and possibly fines starting at $100:
Depending upon circumstances surrounding the violation and/or the apparent heart attitude of the Level-Three violator, students are placed on University Probation and may be required to appear before [a Student/Faculty Judiciary Committee (SFJC)]. [...]
Level-Three Violations are given with the anticipation and expectation that the probationary conditions will facilitate life change and a cooperative spirit. That being said, students need to know that if, after having been extended grace a first time, failure to modify one’s behavior and/or fully comply with the probationary conditions laid out by the SFJC or Student Deans, positions that student for possible suspension or dismissal from the University.
Powell is fighting the school’s bill in court. She is optimistic, given Grace has released her transcripts last September in spite of the outstanding bill. A Change.org petition urging the university to waive the supposed debt has already garnered over 50,000 signatures.
In December, Powell’s girlfriend, Michelle Rogers, proposed to her and they married in neighboring Iowa. That proposal took place at a Macklemore concert in Omaha, and video of it recently went viral. Watch it:
This post has been edited to correct that Rogers proposed to Powell, not the other way around. (HT: Katie Halper.)