Tag Archives: scholarship

Christian college expels lesbian student, sends her $6,000 bill

Danielle Powell was going through a hard time in the spring of 2011, just months away from graduating from a conservative Christian college in Nebraska. She had fallen in love with another woman, a strictly forbidden relationship at a school where even prolonged hugs were banned.

Powell said she was working at a civil rights foundation in Mississippi to finish her psychology degree when she was called back to Grace University in Omaha and confronted about the relationship. She was eventually expelled – then sent a bill for $6,000 to reimburse what the school said were federal loans and grants that needed to be repaid because she didn’t finish the semester.

Powell is now fighting the Omaha school, arguing that her tuition was covered by scholarships and that federal loans wouldn’t need to be repaid in that amount. She also notes she was kicked out even after undergoing months of counseling, spiritual training and mentoring insisted upon by the school following her initial suspension.

“I shouldn’t have this debt hanging over me from a school that clearly didn’t want me,” the 24-year-old said.

The university insists that the $6,000 bill covers federal grants and loans that, by law, must be repaid to the federal government because Powell didn’t finish her final semester. School officials declined to discuss specifics of Powell’s case, citing federal student privacy laws, but through a public relations agency said it would provide Powell official transcripts and transfer her credits.

Powell is skeptical. She noted that nine months after she was expelled in January 2012, the registrar’s office denied her request for her transcripts because of the bill, though she eventually received student copies of her transcripts.

Grace University’s code of conduct for its students is strict: No kissing, no prolonged hugs and no premarital sex. The school even monitors students’ television habits, forbidding HBO, MTV, Comedy Central and several other channels “because of the values they promote.” The rules are laid out in a student handbook and signed by students every year.

“No one was more surprised than me,” Powell recalled of her relationship. “I had been very religious since I was a small child, and that did not fit in with what I thought I believed.”

It’s not unusual to see gay and lesbian students disciplined or even expelled from private Bible- and faith-based colleges, but Powell’s case is unusual, said Ken Upton, an attorney at Lambda Legal.

“This particular case is unusual because there’s this fear that they might not release her information and they are demanding payback,” Upton said. “We don’t see that very often. Usually, the school’s just glad to be rid of them.”

In response to questions about the case from The Associated Press that included Powell’s financial aid letter, the U.S. Department of Education said in an email that the issue of whether Powell owes money is between her and the school – but “it’s not at all because of federal rules.”

The department said it would need to analyze any case to determine if a school had violated federal discrimination regulations. But it noted that educational institutions controlled by religious organizations are exempt from some federal requirements that might conflict with the organizations’ religious tenets.

Grace and other private colleges that accept federal student aid – sometimes called Title IV funding – must abide by the Civil Rights Act that forbids discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex, age or physical handicap. But sexual orientation is not included in that list.

“There’s a long history of institutions of higher education that are faith-based participating in Title IV programs without having to compromise their institutional statement of faith or institutional statement of practice,” said Ronald Kroll, director of the accreditation commission for the Association for Biblical Higher Education, which includes Grace University.

As required by the university after her suspension, Powell said she promised not to engage in sex and completed months of church attendance and meetings with Christian mentors, spiritual advisers and other groups. She was then readmitted, only to receive a letter days later from the university’s vice president, Michael James, revoking her admittance.

James wrote that her re-admittance had been based on professions she made to various faculty and staff that she would change her behavior, but that “the prevailing opinion is that those professions appear to have been insincere, at best, if not deceitful.”

“I was livid,” Powell said. “I had done everything they asked me to do. I drove over to my mentors’ house and just bawled my eyes out.”

Powell legally married another woman in neighboring Iowa in December, but the couple still lives across the border in Omaha and has found support online. Her wife, Michelle Rogers, posted a petition on change.org asking the university to drop the tuition bill.

“Being kicked out of school for being gay would have been awful enough, but Danielle’s nightmare didn’t end there,” Rogers wrote. “In addition to being expelled, school officials revoked her scholarships and are hounding her for $6,000 in back-due tuition for the final semester – which she was never allowed to complete – that her scholarships would have covered.”

As of June 14, the petition had been signed by more than 35,000 people.

‘Ellen’ gives ousted gay Boy Scout $20,000

A Northern California Boy Scout who was denied the opportunity to become an Eagle Scout and kicked out of his troop after he came out as gay has secured a considerable consolation prize: a $20,000 check for college and a national television audience.

Ellen DeGeneres hosted 18-year-old Ryan Andresen of Moraga as a guest on her talk show on Oct. 11, which was National Coming Out Day.

After talking with Andresen about his experience, DeGeneres surprised him with the check provided by online photo publisher.

Andresen’s mother, Karen Andresen, launched an online petition last week to get the master of her son’s to sign-off on a project that would allow him to become an Eagle Scout.

The Boy Scouts of America has a policy prohibiting gay members or troop leaders.

Iowa bishop bans scholarship presentation to gay student

Overruling school officials, a Catholic bishop in Iowa said this week he would not let a group that promotes equal rights for gays and lesbians present a college scholarship to an openly gay student during an upcoming award ceremony.

Bishop Martin Amos in Davenport said the Eychaner Foundation would not be allowed to present the Matthew Shepard Scholarship to Keaton Fuller during the May 20 ceremony at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton because the group’s support for gay rights conflicts with church doctrine.

The announcement comes after a school official signed a document last month that promised to let a representative of the foundation’s scholarship committee present the award to Fuller.

In an open letter released May 7, Fuller said he’s never felt so “invalidated and unaccepted” as he did when he heard that news. He said he and his family were asking the school to reverse its decision, and he launched an online petition that was signed by hundreds of supporters within its first hours.

“This whole ordeal has been incredibly hurtful, and I am even sadder that this will be one of my last experiences to remember my high school years by,” Fuller wrote.

The bishop’s decision also stunned school officials, who had encouraged Fuller to apply for the award and wrote letters on his behalf.

Founded by Iowa businessman and gay rights activist Rich Eychaner, the Des Moines-based foundation has awarded more than 130 Matthew Shepard scholarships to graduating high school seniors who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender since 2000. It is named for the gay Wyoming college student killed in 1998.

Citing his scholastic achievement and work fighting homophobia, the foundation chose Fuller this spring as one of three students for the gold scholarship, which is worth up to $40,000 over four years to attend one of Iowa’s three public universities. Fuller, 18, plans to go to the University of Iowa.

Fuller is believed to be the first gay student at a Catholic high school to attend multiple school dances with a partner of the same sex, said foundation executive director Michael Bowser.

“We were very proud of him for that,” he said.

Bowser said the group’s award presentations are part of the scholarship process because they send a message of acceptance. He said three other Catholic schools had rejected presentations for scholarship recipients in prior years, but the group thought Prince of Peace would be the first to allow it, given the staff’s support for Fuller.

Despite the school’s promise, Amos told Fuller’s parents last week that church policies on guest speakers would prohibit it, the Diocese of Davenport said in a statement. The policy says, “We cannot allow any one or any organization which promotes a position that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church to present at a diocesan institution.”

The diocese’s statement congratulated Fuller for winning “the generous award,” and said it would be announced by a school employee during the assembly.

School board president Edward O’Neill said he was disappointed by the bishop’s decision. He said Fuller was a talented student who was accepted by his peers after coming out years ago. He said Fuller had taken his boyfriend to prom and other school dances without controversy.

O’Neill said board members were briefed on the scholarship last month, and they were aware a foundation representative planned to present the scholarship. No one raised an objection until the bishop got involved, he said.

“We preach tolerance and acceptance but then we turn around and we don’t practice what we preach,” he said. “If the bishop says we’re not going to do it, I can voice my objection to it, but there’s not a whole lot I can do.”

Eychaner issued a statement saying he was shocked that the bishop believes the foundation’s work clashes with church teachings, noting it promotes tolerance and fights bullying. And he said he was confused how the bishop found the award itself acceptable to be announced but not by its sponsor.

 

Bishop bans LGBT scholarship presentation at Iowa school

Overruling school officials, a Catholic bishop in Iowa said this week he would not let a group that promotes equal rights for gays and lesbians present a college scholarship to an openly gay student during an upcoming award ceremony.

Bishop Martin Amos in Davenport said the Eychaner Foundation would not be allowed to present the Matthew Shepard Scholarship to Keaton Fuller during the May 20 ceremony at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton because the group’s support for gay rights conflicts with church doctrine.

The announcement comes after a school official signed a document last month that promised to let a representative of the foundation’s scholarship committee present the award to Fuller.

In an open letter released May 7, Fuller said he’s never felt so “invalidated and unaccepted” as he did when he heard that news. He said he and his family were asking the school to reverse its decision, and he launched an online petition that was signed by hundreds of supporters within its first hours.

“This whole ordeal has been incredibly hurtful, and I am even sadder that this will be one of my last experiences to remember my high school years by,” Fuller wrote.

The bishop’s decision also stunned school officials, who had encouraged Fuller to apply for the award and wrote letters on his behalf.

Founded by Iowa businessman and gay rights activist Rich Eychaner, the Des Moines-based foundation has awarded more than 130 Matthew Shepard scholarships to graduating high school seniors who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender since 2000. It is named for the gay Wyoming college student killed in 1998.

Citing his scholastic achievement and work fighting homophobia, the foundation chose Fuller this spring as one of three students for the gold scholarship, which is worth up to $40,000 over four years to attend one of Iowa’s three public universities. Fuller, 18, plans to go to the University of Iowa.

Fuller is believed to be the first gay student at a Catholic high school to attend multiple school dances with a partner of the same sex, said foundation executive director Michael Bowser.

“We were very proud of him for that,” he said.

Bowser said the group’s award presentations are part of the scholarship process because they send a message of acceptance. He said three other Catholic schools had rejected presentations for scholarship recipients in prior years, but the group thought Prince of Peace would be the first to allow it, given the staff’s support for Fuller.

Despite the school’s promise, Amos told Fuller’s parents last week that church policies on guest speakers would prohibit it, the Diocese of Davenport said in a statement. The policy says, “We cannot allow any one or any organization which promotes a position that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church to present at a diocesan institution.”

The diocese’s statement congratulated Fuller for winning “the generous award,” and said it would be announced by a school employee during the assembly.

School board president Edward O’Neill said he was disappointed by the bishop’s decision. He said Fuller was a talented student who was accepted by his peers after coming out years ago. He said Fuller had taken his boyfriend to prom over the weekend and other school dances without controversy.

O’Neill said board members were briefed on the scholarship last month, and they were aware a foundation representative planned to present the scholarship. No one raised an objection until the bishop got involved, he said.

“We preach tolerance and acceptance but then we turn around and we don’t practice what we preach,” he said. “If the bishop says we’re not going to do it, I can voice my objection to it, but there’s not a whole lot I can do.”

Eychaner issued a statement saying he was shocked that the bishop believes the foundation’s work clashes with church teachings, noting it promotes tolerance and fights bullying. And he said he was confused how the bishop found the award itself acceptable to be announced but not by its sponsor.

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Drug company creates LGBT scholarship

Janssen Therapeutics has created a Point Scholarship with the Point Foundation, the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBT students of merit.

Janssen is the first pharmaceutical company to fund a Point Scholarship, according to a news release.

The company is sponsoring a Point Scholarship that provides funding for a four-year period to graduating high school seniors and college students with a field of study focused on HIV/AIDS or attending a business school. The scholarship recipient receives financial assistance and is matched with a mentor who is a successful professional and serves as a role model for the scholar.

The first scholarship is going to Siddarth Puri to support his medical studies at University of California-Davis School of Medicine. Born in Kentucky to Indian immigrants, Puri was raised in Los Angeles. Janssen said watching his mother, a physician, work with patients in LA and in rural India taught the student the importance of advocating for the underserved. At UC-Davis, Puri is a co-director of the Joan Viteri Memorial Clinic, a student-run clinic dedicated to serving the health care needs of uninsured drug users, sex workers and their families in Sacramento.

He also is active in his school’s LGBT People in Medicine organization and is pursuing research on health disparities faced by the transgender community both in the United States and in India.

“I am on the way to getting my medical degree so I can provide culturally sensitive medical care to the LGBT community and all people living with HIV/AIDS,” Puri said.

“Janssen Therapeutics is honored to support Sid’s education and his efforts in advocating for the underserved,” said Ron Falcon, the company’s director of marketing. “This scholarship further extends our commitment to diversity.”

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