In less than two weeks since a petition launched on Change.org asking Grace University to forgive the debt owed by a student who was kicked out for being in a same-sex relationship, the list of signatures has grown to more than 64,000.
Grace, a Christian college in Omaha, Neb., suspended 24-year-old Danielle Powell in 2011 for "homosexual acts," and subsequently denied her re-enrollment in January 2012. The university revoked her scholarship and then billed Powell just over $6,300 for tuition for the semester she was not allowed to complete.
On June 7 Powell's wife, Michelle Rogers, started a petition to get Grace to waive the debt. Since then, the petition has quickly gathered support, including that of hip-hop artist Macklemore, who tweeted that he "cannot believe this is happening in 2013." (Powell proposed to Rogers at a Macklemore concert.)
Powell has also received offers for legal assistance from individuals willing to help her pay off the debt. Powell told HuffPost that while she was "extremely flattered and grateful" for the offers, she doesn't intend to accept any of them.
"I wasn't asking for someone to repay an institution for double-charging me for a semester," Powell said, adding that she's more interested in ensuring no other student has to deal with a similar situation in the future.
Roosevelt University in Chicago has also offered Powell a full scholarship, which she said she is still considering.
"We are inspired by her courageous stand and the principled action she has undertaken," Lesley Slavitt, vice president of government relations and university outreach, told HuffPost in an email.
Grace President David Barnes sent a campuswide email on June 14 reaffirming that the administration holds Powell's relationships are "sinful."
"I know it is painful for all of us to watch our beloved university endure the scrutiny and criticism of those who do not share or understand our values," Barnes wrote. He also added that Powell's debt was not for repayment of scholarships.
But Powell shared with The Huffington Post an email she received from Michael James, executive vice president of Grace, on Aug. 10, 2011, that said, "your balance due is the result of scholarships that were revoked due to your violation of the student handbook." James later told HuffPost the "issue is repayment of federal loans and grants, not scholarships."
The U.S. Department of Education told the Associated Press that whether Powell owes any money is between her and the university. Powell told HuffPost she does have loans to repay, but she receives those bills directly from the government, so it is not a debt she would owe Grace.
And although the university has provided Powell with a copy of her transcript, she said that the school has told her to pay the debt if she wants free access to it in the future.
Since the story was initially reported, Powell said Grace has not attempted to contact her, apart from James' appearing with her during a radio talk show on KFAB on June 13.
Powell suggested the media attention to her case that shows how many people object to "the fact that, in 2013, your sexual orientation can determine your academic success at certain institutions, whether it's legally justified or not."
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