When Danielle Powell attended Grace University, a Bible college near Omaha, Nebraska, and in doing so she signed a statement agreeing to follow the rules outlined in the student handbook. One of those ‘rules’ was the promise not to engage on “sexually immoral behavior” like "homosexual acts" and Powell, who’d never had a thought about dating a woman, signed the book. Trouble is, Danielle Powell is now in love with a woman, though she says she does not identify as a lesbian, and Grace University has expelled her for it just before graduation.
"I love who I love based on my emotional connection with that person. It has nothing to do with gender."— Danielle Powell
But, falling in love with a woman, and calling herself a lesbian or not, has caused the school to send Danielle Powell a bill for $6,000 in scholarships that Grace now demands she pay back. Powell learned of the bill when she was denied a transcript transfer because of an outstanding balance, making it impossible to transfer to another university.
Now, here are the rules by which Grace University seeks to monetarily punish Danielle Powell because she fell in love with a woman:
The university’s student handbook notes that scholarship credits will not be applied until the semester is 60% complete, and that students who leave before that point will owe the balance because Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 requires colleges to return federal scholarship dollars on behalf of the withdrawn—or suspended, or expelled—students.
Powell finished just 54.89% of the semester before she was notified of her expulsion via a letter from Grace’s executive vice president, Michael F. James:
“Despite serious reservations, the student development office decided to readmit you [after being suspended when Grace first discovered Powell’s lesbian relationship] based largely on professions you made to various faculty and staff members that such behavior had not and would not be repeated. [Powell said she simply agreed she ‘would not engage in any sort of premarital sex while attending Grace.’] The prevailing opinion is that those professions appear to have been insincere, at best, if not deceitful. I have had conversations with enough individuals with first-hand knowledge of your behavior to become convinced that it would be impossible for the faculty of Grace University to affirm your Christian character, a requirement for degree conferral. Therefore, it would be unethical for us to re-admit you knowing that we could not allow you to graduate. For you, it would be a tremendous waste of time and money.”
Oddly enough, though, James says in the letter that Grace University will provide transcripts “and any other assistance” needed for Powell to transfer to another institution though they clearly have not done so.
“I don’t think a lot of people are aware of the fact that you legally can be kicked out of a school in 2013 for being gay. Yes, this is a legal, financial petition, technically speaking, but there’s a lot of morals and social injustice tied into it that is getting I think some necessary exposure, and that Grace University will be held accountable for at some point.”—Danielle Powell
Powell, who chose Grace because she could play volleyball there, liked the intercultural studies program, and knew the institution did good overseas humanitarian and social justice work, says "no knowingly gay person would ever go to this institution."
Which is who she was when she began at school; but then she met a woman and fell in love, and had a relationship—as most college students do—and after they had broken up, her former girlfriend told a staff member of their relationship. “You can either come out about this or I’m going to,” Powell says the staff member told her, and she did.
At first, the school, and the intercultural studies program, handled it internally, but then Powell was ordered to move off-campus and her ex was sent to work on her academic project in Seattle a month earlier than scheduled.
Seriously. Banish the lesbian? And then send the other one away?
Then, when word of their relationship worked its way up to administrators, the two women were flown back to campus to attend a judiciary hearing in which they were questioned separately about their relationship and their remorse.
They were both suspended; again, because they’re gay. Powell was told she could re-enroll for her final semester if she agreed to a restoration—please say they don’t mean Pray The Gay Away ex-gay therapy—involving mandatory church attendance, meetings with counselors and mentors, and keeping in touch with a dean.
Powell says her sexual behavior was not ‘directly’ addressed, though the idea of ‘restoration’ seems to imply that Powell would have to turn her back on her orientation and deny it ever existed, and never ever be in a same-sex relationship again.
“At that point I was like, I’ve worked really hard for this. I guess some people weren’t happy about that decision, so they continued to investigate my life. The dean of students actually was calling people that knew me and investigating whether or not I was in a same-sex relationship.”—Danielle Powell, on her decision to go through with the program and re-enroll in January 2012
But the investigation into her activities didn’t stop, and one of Powell’s mentors warned her that people were asking questions; shortly thereafter she got the expulsion letter, followed by the bill.
Grace officials declined to comment on Powell’s case, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act:
“Our student Code of Conduct, which is clearly outlined in the Student Handbook, states, 'Any student involved in sexually immoral behavior, including premarital sex, adultery, and homosexual acts, is at minimum placed on university probation and may be subject to a Judiciary Hearing.’ Prior to beginning classes at Grace University, all students must review the handbook and sign a document agreeing that they ‘will live according to the university’s community standards, policies and procedures as outlined in this handbook.’"
Still, it makes one wonder if Grace University punishes the heterosexual, sexually active students as readily and as harshly.
|Michelle Roger, left, and Danielle Powell|
For now, Powell, who is married to a woman, Michelle Rogers, creator of the Change.org petition ... you can sign it HERE—they were married in Iowa—is living in Omaha. And while she is pleased that her story has gained traction as a civil rights issue, she really hopes it calls attention to how many students are negatively affected—sometimes severely—by compulsory withdrawal.
“I think it’s planting a seed of change at that institution and other institutions like that.”—Danielle Powell.
Now, let’s discuss: Danielle Powell signed the handbook saying she wouldn’t engage in homosexual behavior or premarital sex, and that if she did there would be consequences. But, when presented with that handbook, Powell had never had a same-sex attraction, so signing it seemed a no-brainer.
Could she have left school when she realized her attraction to other woman? Surely; but then she’d give up a great part of her education at a school where she thought she’d be best prepared after graduation.
And again, I cannot help but wonder if Grace University uses spies to watch the straight students and then punishes them accordingly.
What’s good for the gay goose is good for the straight goose, too.