Christian University holds education hostage: #LetGaryGraduate

#LetGaryGraduate

The internet is in an uproar (and rightly so) after a gay man has been denied the right to graduate by his university, a school that has decided to hold his education hostage because he would not fall into line with their outdated views.

Although by 2018 it was assumed the human race would have progressed to a point where discrimination was minimal, it has, in fact, become more commonplace in recent years. While many fight against all levels of discrimination — racism, sexism, xenophobia, and bigotry to name a few — many others support an increased legal right to discriminate.

At least, white evangelicals in the United States support it. Christian Universities, schools that declare themselves as places of “higher education” and promote themselves as exceptional, quality, education providers are one such category of groups given a legal right to discriminate. That legal right is called a Title IX exemption, which allows them to basically do what they want on the grounds of their religious beliefs.

On the US Department of Education’s website, Title IX “generally prohibits a recipient institution from excluding, separating, denying benefits to, or otherwise treating students differently on the basis of sex in its educational programs or activities unless expressly authorized to do so under Title IX.”

Institutions that are exempt from Title IX do not have to abide by these regulations, which is why many Christian Universities were legally allowed to bar interracial dating for well into the 2000s. Or how they can require that members of the opposite sex cannot be friends, or that women must wear long skirts and keep their hair long, and must submit to male authority. And this is why, in 2018, one student is now being openly discriminated against for his sexuality by Clark Summit University.

The story broke earlier this week when Gary Campbell posted his plight to Facebook, asking if anyone could help. An article was written, and then the story went viral.

Gary first attended the college from 2001-2003, where he worked towards his degree and fought hard to adhere to the school’s strict “Biblical” policies. Although he knew he was gay, he was taught to believe that it was inherently wrong — that his mere existence as a gay man was sinful. He believed that by attending the school and focusing on his walk — and even attending conversion therapy — he would be able to change this about himself.

“Based on what I understood from the Bible at the time I was convinced that being homosexual
was sinful and needed to be corrected,” Gary explained. “During my entire time as a student, I was enrolled in counselling/therapy to change my orientation. I also went to group therapy too.”

After a series of life events that included departing from school for a while, joining the military, and recovering from alcoholism, Gary decided to try to get his life back on track. He discovered he was only two credits shy of graduating and re-enrolled at the University.

Although by this point Gary had fully embraced his sexuality and had been involved with a partner since December 2017, he had no choice but to look at Clark Summit University to finish his degree.

Another problem with many Christian Universities is that they operate in a way which ensnares their students and prevents them from being able to leave. The courses these schools, including Clarks Summit, require students to take in order to graduate are unrecognizable as credits at other educational institutions. For Gary specifically, this meant that more than half of his credits were non-transferrable. Basically, they were meaningless.

This fact, that their credits essentially have no credentials outside of those specific schools, are not revealed to students.

“The school does not prepare students for transferring elsewhere or offer any help thereof,” Gary explained. “It’s the type of school that once you’re enrolled you’re pretty much stuck there until graduation.”

Being more than $30,000 in debt with student loans already, this meant Gary couldn’t afford to lose more than half his credits and needed to complete his degree at Clarks Summit U.

At first, everything seemed to go well. His enrolment was accepted, and he prepared to take the two online courses that would finish up his student career. But when the school found out that he had embraced his sexuality, they told him he was no longer welcome.

“The sole reason for my dismissal was my homosexual lifestyle,” he said. “There were no other reasons but that. The phone conversation the Dean and I had when called me was, “Gary, it appears to us that you are still living a homosexual lifestyle, I am sorry but we thought you knew this was against our code of conduct.” The Dean stated two days later via email, “I am sorry but you are in violation of our code of conduct as found in the student handbook. We have no choice but to dismiss you from Clarks Summit University.””

After working hard to obtain money for tuition and textbooks, as well as friends and family helping out, it was all over. And what was worse, the school made no offer to refund the tuition, the costs, or even provide financial compensation for his now useless credits.

“I was hurt, I felt betrayed, I was angry, I felt let down,” he shared. “Since I am in recovery from Alcoholism, I thought getting accepted back into school was a sign that life was finally getting back on track. The school dismissing me as they did was huge a blow to my self-esteem and my confidence. I spent a lot of time meditating and connecting with Recovery friends.”

Fortunately, through his meditation and counselling, Gary was able to find his own footing again.

“I now realize that this school can no longer tell me who or what I am. I am not sinful and my feelings aren’t wrong. Everything I have accomplished and all that I am today, the University can never take away. They have lost their power over me.”

Since making his Facebook post, Gary has seen a number of online communities rally around him, and the Twitterverse has exploded with people demanding Clarks Summit University be held accountable for their discrimination. Thousands of people have been tweeting the school at @ClarkSummitU and use of the hashtag #LetGaryGraduate has been implemented to help connect the tweets with the hope of putting pressure on the school.

“I thought the initial news story in the Scranton Times would be published and that would be it,” explained Gary. “The outpouring of support and encouragement has not only surprised me but it has been therapeutic. To be turned down my school was one thing but to then be embraced and loved by a multitude of supporters has meant the world to me and has helped me realize that I am more loved than I dared to ever dream.”

But the outpouring of support isn’t the only thing that has come of this. On Monday, another college in the area, Lackawanna, stepped up to the plate and offered to help Gary however they could. With all that was going on, it was another push forward for the student, who may now see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

“It’s kinda like that feeling when that bully at school is harassing you and has you cornered. Then someone stronger comes in and pushes the bully aside and stands up for you. It feels just like that. The president of Lackawanna college personally reached out to me and has given me his word that he will do whatever it takes to assist me.”

As someone directly impacted by the Title IX exemptions, Gary feels confident that changes will be implemented at some point in the future.

“There was a time when certain religious schools were allowed to ban interracial dating on Campus,” he said. “As times have changed so did those oppressive policies. I feel it will only be a matter of time that the LGBT community will be a protected group and not live their lives in fear of losing their enrolment or having their degrees rescinded.”

Despite everything, Gary seems to be holding his head high and appears to be optimistic about where things are heading. As far as what he might say to the Clarks Summit U if he had the chance, he seems to have it well thought out.

“You might be able to withhold my degree but you can never take away who I am and what I have accomplished. It’s your loss for dismissing me because I am one hell of a great student and am destined for great things. I wish you peace.”

As for anyone else facing the same kinds of struggles he did, Gary has a message for them too.

“You are beautiful just as you are. Don’t let any institution tell you otherwise. I allowed this school to convince me that my natural emotions and feelings were sinful. That takes a rough toll on a person’s well-being and self-esteem. I was tired of feeling like I was disgusting. If you are in the same situation that I am currently in I want you to know it is ok and your right to stand up to any institution that is holding you back from becoming a better you.”

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