Danielle Powell was expelled from Grace University in Omaha, Neb., just a semester before she would have graduated because school officials learned she was in a relationship with another woman. Now, the school expects the Powell to repay $6,300 in tuition money.
Grace University is a private Bible college founded in 1943. The school’s mission statement reads: “Grace University exists to develop servant leaders for the home, the church, and the world through excellence in biblically-integrated education and through life change in a personal, discipling environment, all for the glory of God."
Powell, 24, was kicked out specifically for breaking a rule in the student handbook, which forbids “sexually immoral behavior.”
Powell said in 2011 she had a close relationship with a female friend while she was participating in a program on social justice and racial reconciliation in a Jackson, Miss. She said she was eventually booted from the school after officials learned of the relationship. Then Grace University refused to transfer the credits she earned during 3.5 years until the college senior pays them $6,300 – the tuition for the Spring 2011 Semester — when the school dropped her schedule of classes.
The school said they have to recover any federal aid a student took for tuition without completing a semester. Powell said the majority of that money was not federal aid, but rather a scholarship she had received.
Michael James, executive vice president of Grace, told Omaha.com that he wants to discuss the case, but a federal privacy law prevents him from making public a particular student's records.
“Trust me, this is extremely frustrating for me," he said. "I would love to tell this story."
Powell’s wife, Michelle Rogers, started a petition on Change.org in protest of the repayment. As of noon Thursday, the petition had more than 16,245 signatures. Rogers’ petition claims “the school is forcing her to pay back her scholarship money, because they say she wasn't ‘moral’ enough to deserve that scholarship.”
Rogers said Powell, a former member of the volleyball team and an on-campus volunteer for the homeless, contributed a great deal to the university.
“I’m asking for your help in petitioning Grace University to drop all tuition fees owed for the Spring Semester of 2011,” Rogers wrote. “We are a young, recently married couple and this lingering debt – which Danielle should not have to pay and Grace University has no right to demand – is holding her back from achieving her dreams and putting us in a perilous financial situation.”
Powell, who says she was a Christian when she started school at Grace, said she did not realize the kind of religious environment she would find there.
“I definitely didn't know what I signed up for,” she said.
You may remember Powell from YouTube. Back in December when she proposed to Rogers at a Macklemore concert, video taken at the event went viral.