ORU ex-student challenges ban on return

BY SAMANTHA VICENT
Tulsa World samantha.vicent@tulsaworld.com

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TULSA — A former Oral Roberts University student says she has been barred from re-enrolling at the school to complete her final semester after administrators became aware that she married a woman, and she alleges school officials encouraged her to terminate her marriage in exchange for re-admission.

Sabrina Bradford, 30, and 54-year-old Ophelia Bradford received a Tulsa County marriage license on Jan. 29, 2015, more than three years after Bradford enrolled at ORU to pursue a social work degree.

Before she began her studies at the university in 2011, Bradford — known as Sabrina McGhie at that time — signed ORU’s Code of Honor Pledge, which among other rules states that students agree to refrain from engaging in “unscriptural sexual acts” including homosexual activity, same-sex marriage and premarital sex.

Unable to enroll

According to Sabrina Bradford and her attorney, Alyssa Bryant, ORU learned of the marriage on Aug. 25 after Bradford submitted a financial aid application for her final semester, which indicated she was married.

Two days later, they said, Vice President for Student Life Daniel Guajardo and Dean of Women Lori Cook met with her and told her she could not enroll.

“I think there’s some due-process issues and some administrative issues in the sense that they kind of put her in limbo” Bryant said. “They didn’t tell her she was suspended or expelled. When she asked why (she couldn’t return), they wouldn’t tell her in writing. Everything was kept verbal initially”

ORU declined to provide specifics on Bradford’s situation or comment on the emails, citing provisions in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. But Ossie Mills, vice president of communications and marketing, told the Tulsa World that students and employees sign the ORU Code of Honor Pledge as “an expression of their personal lifestyle commitment ”

“A student’s signature on the honor code constitutes acceptance of the entire honor code and completes a contract between the student and ORU, which is a prerequisite for matriculation as well as the student’s continued association with ORU” Mills said.

Possible lawsuit?

Bryant said she’s not sure yet whether her client will sue the university, but she believes the school’s conduct could violate Title IX, a federal statute prohibiting sex-based discrimination in education.

Religious institutions such as ORU are eligible to apply for exemptions from parts of Title IX they consider “inconsistent” with their beliefs. According to a Department of Education spokesman, ORU has had such an exemption since 1985.

Bradford told the World that the gender of her partner shouldn’t matter despite the provisions in ORU’s honor code. She said it made “no sense” for the administration to stop her from continuing her education.

“You shouldn’t be persecuted for being married to someone that you love ” Bradford said. “I believe that we were all created in God’s image and likeness. I can understand not wanting to support the idea of same-sex marriage, but when it comes to reality, this is an educational system — whether you have a personal bias against homosexuals or not, you accepted me as a student ”

Job withdrawn

Bradford was on track to graduate with her social work degree in the fall 2015 semester when she accepted a job offer from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, but when she was told in August that she could not enroll, DHS revoked the offer, she said.

In November, Bradford moved back to Connecticut to be with family, citing a strain on her marriage due to the situation with ORU that was compounded by losing the DHS job.

By Nov. 20, Bradford told professor Larry Endicott via text message that she would not return to Oklahoma to continue her relationship and wanted to enroll in ORU’s online courses for the spring 2016 semester.

The World obtained copies of communications between Bradford and multiple ORU employees, including Endicott, between September and December 2015.

Endicott on Nov. 22 sent Bradford a sample letter to provide to her college’s dean, which said her plans included filing for divorce and that she would not push forward with a grievance against the school if she were readmitted.

She sent the letter to the dean the same day but has since said she’s unsure whether to proceed with a divorce.

In prayer

Guajardo sent an email to Bradford on Dec. 1, which stated that school officials were “in prayer” over her situation.

“We are trusting God that He will work everything out on your behalf including the termination of the marital relationship as mentioned in your email ” Guajardo wrote. “Please let us know when this proceeding is complete so we can continue the dialogue ”

It is not clear from the communications how exactly the ORU administration classified Bradford’s situation.