Danielle Powell, a 24-year-old Nebraskan, was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Grace University (GU) in Omaha. As reported by the Omaha World-Herald, Powell considered herself a Christian when she first came to GU, but now regrets her decision to enroll at the university.
GU is a small, private Christian school, with a total enrollment of only about 500. According to GU’s website, the university’s mission is “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.”
In early 2011, with only a few months remaining until her graduation, Powell chose to pursue a romantic relationship with another woman. After finding out about the relationship, GU school officials suspended Powell, saying she would only be re-admitted if she repented from her homosexual behavior. Ultimately, the negotiations failed, and Powell was never welcomed back to the school.
After her expulsion, Powell moved in with a woman named Michelle Rogers, and now the two are seeking to generate support for Powell’s cause. Rogers even filed a petition against the Christian school, saying GU’s decision to not re-admit Powell was “awful” and a “nightmare,” and that Powell’s “life was completely turned upside down.”
The women are also claiming that GU officials have been “hounding” Powell, saying that if she doesn’t pay an outstanding $6,000 debt to the school, she will not be awarded any academic transfer credits.
“We are a young, recently married couple,” the petition reads, “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. Please sign this petition and join us in demanding at least a shred of ‘grace’ from Grace University.”
Since the petition was filed on change.org, over 60,000 individuals have signed it. However, David Barnes, president of GU, contended in a recent statement that one of the petition’s central claims is untrue, since the university never forces students to pay unsettled debts.
“Grace University does not employ collection agencies or take legal action, nor do we report to credit agencies to collect debt,” Barnes wrote. “Our policy is to notify the student of the debt, and we believe it is up to the student to uphold his or her obligations. … [F]rom the very beginning we have been and remain willing to provide transcripts for [Powell].”
Furthermore, GU officials have pointed out that all students are required to abide by the university’s student handbook, which lays out consequences for forbidden conduct, including sexual sin.
“Outside of heterosexual marriage, interpersonal sexual activity in all of its forms is sin according to God’s word,” the 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.”
“This situation has been handled no differently than any other violation of our code of conduct,” GU executive vice president Michael James told WORLD Magazine. “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.”
Dr. James Eckman, president emeritus of GU, wrote an article in early April, in which he emphasized that the school is firmly committed to upholding Biblical marriage, even when the postmodern culture asserts otherwise. He said the marriage re-definition movement is “a recipe for cultural chaos and disaster.”
“[M]arriage is far more than merely a legal or a constitutional matter,” he wrote. “The Creation Ordinance of God stipulates unambiguously that marriage is between a man and a woman for life. There is no room for any kind of moral or cultural relativism on this issue.”