Danielle Powell was expelled from Grace University, a conservative Christian school in Omaha, Neb., after she became romantically involved with another woman. That was in 2012, but Powell's fight with the school was just beginning. Now Grace administrators want her to pay back $6,000 in federal grants and loans for her final semester, because she didn't finish it.
Powell says she shouldn't have to pay the bill. She agreed to undergo months of counseling, spiritual training, and mentoring in the hope that the university would let her finish her final semester and graduate — but administrators kicked her out because she was still dating a woman. Powell, school officials say, had been "deceitful" when she allegedly promised to change her ways.
The university says its case is open and shut. Grace University has a strict code of conduct. Students can't kiss, or share prolonged hugs. Obviously, that means premarital sex is out of the question. The school even forbids students from watching HBO, MTV, Comedy Central, and several other channels "because of the values they promote." All students have to sign a handbook spelling out the rules every year, and Powell, administrators say, didn't abide by them.
The school's president, Dr. David Barnes, says in a statement that the university isn't asking Powell to return scholarship money — just federal grants and loans for a semester Powell didn't complete. He says the school is merely enforcing a code of conduct inspired by the Bible, forbidding premarital sex and homosexual acts.
"As a Christ-centered educational institution, we have incorporated this into our Code of Conduct for our entire 70-year history," he says. "We stand by the strength of our convictions."
Powell says she never tried to hide who she was — because she didn't know until she found herself falling in love. "No one was more surprised than me," Powell, 24, says. "I had been very religious since I was a small child, and that did not fit in with what I thought I believed."
Powell is moving on with her life. She married her girlfriend (take a look at the on-stage proposal below):
But Powell's wife, Michelle Rogers, says they don't have the money to pay back the loan for the semester Powell wasn't allowed to attend. So she has started a petition at Change.org calling for Grace to release Powell's transcripts and transfer her credits — without forcing her to pay back the money — so she can finish her education somewhere else. So far, more than 50,000 people have signed the petition. "It's something I've invested too much in to not finish," Powell tells The Huffington Post.
The petition is gaining traction thanks to supportive bloggers and activists. Laura Beck at Jezebel urged readers to sign on and urge the university to forgive the bill. "As if she's the one who needs to be asking for forgiveness."