The Huffington Post story about a lesbian student's fight with a Christian university—complete with headlines that focus on her expulsion and resulting tuition bill—may get reader clicks, but it doesn't tell the whole truth. Grace University in Omaha, Neb., expelled former student Danielle Powell last spring after a yearlong restoration period. The school discovered Powell’s same-sex relationship in early 2011 and began the same probation process that all students face if they break the student code, which covers academics and behavior.
“Any sexual activity outside of marriage is prohibited,” Michael James, the school’s executive vice president, told WORLD.
James said that all students understand the policy, since all students receive the handbook and sign a statement saying they agree to live by the guidelines. If students break those rules, they face probation and possibly a “judiciary hearing” made up of faculty and students who discuss the case.
“This situation has been handled no differently than any other violation of our code of conduct,” James said. “It’s a situation where the rules were very clear, the consequences were very clear, and everything has played out as the policy said it should. There are no surprises here.”
Powell had finished less than 60 percent of the semester when probation began. According to Title IV government requirements, when a student withdraws before that mark, the school must return government scholarship money. For Powell, that means she has an outstanding $6,300 to pay for spring 2011. James said the school doesn’t use collection agencies—it sends a letter every six months asking the student to pay: “There are no other repercussions for the student.”
According to The Huffington Post, the school asked Powell “why she did what she did and whether she was remorseful.” The article added that “Powell said that the university told her she could participate in a restoration program, involving counseling and regular church attendance, to get readmitted.”
She began that process in the summer of 2011, but shortly before the start of the spring 2012 semester, Grace expelled her because she was still dating women.
“Our goal is to restore all our students to the body of Christ,” James said. “Fundamental to that restoration is recognition and repentance of sin. If they don’t acknowledge that, we can’t restore them to our community.”
In the year since Grace expelled Powell, she has married Michelle Rogers and wants to finish her degree. The Huffington Post reported that the school refused transcripts until she paid, but James denies those allegations: “The letter that they referred to in [the article] clearly stated that we were clearly willing to provide transcripts and help the student transfer to another university.”
Rogers has started a petition on Change.org asking Grace University to forgive Powell’s debt. It has garnered more than 17,000 signatures, with the number quickly rising.
James expressed no animosity toward Powell: “We are not telling anybody else how to live their life.” But he also remained firm: “This is an important policy of ours and it’s not going to change.”