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The other Brown University: JBU expels lone openly gay student

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A prospective student searching for the University on Google might come across another Brown University – John Brown University. But despite the similarities in namesakes, the school atop College Hill has little in common – at least at first glance – with the small Christian college in Siloam Springs, Ark.

On Jan. 13, JBU expelled an openly gay student, Michael Guinn, for violating the “community covenant.” A university spokesman declined to elaborate on the expulsion.

“There were particular behaviors that were substantial and incredible,” said Andrea Phillips, director of communications at JBU. “There were behaviors that obviously broke the principles of the community covenant.”

Although there is no mention of homosexuality in the community covenant, the university argued that it is implicitly banned by nature of the covenant.

A statement released by the university compared expelling Guinn to kicking a smoker out of a hospital or detaining a person who threatens violence in an airport.

Though the university did not specify to media sources if a specific event brought about the expulsion, Guinn said he was expelled shortly after a student complained about photos Guinn had posted of himself dressed in drag on, even though the pictures were taken before he enrolled at JBU.

“I was told I was expelled for … breaking too many rules regarding my lifestyle,” Guinn said, adding that administrators specifically mentioned the photos. He added that he did not think his expulsion was fair.

Guinn was expelled despite following strict restrictions placed on him due to his sexual orientation. Upon enrolling at JBU, Guinn was advised not to “advertise” his sexuality and also had to abide by a special set of rules, according to newspaper reports. Guinn was told not to dress in drag, hug other men, shake their hands for too long or act “flamboyantly.” He told the Springdale Morning News that he did not violate the rules forbidding homosexual activity at JBU.

Although he was the only openly gay person on campus, Guinn said there are other gay students at JBU. He added that they feel community pressure to keep their sexual preference quiet.

Administrators claim that the community response has generally been supportive of the university’s decision. Lindsey Larsen, coordinator of media relations at JBU, said students “liked Michael as a person” but generally agreed that the administration’s actions were necessary in order to maintain the standards of the community.

But one student, who requested anonymity, said many students were initially angry that the university had expelled Guinn. Many were particularly upset upon finding out that Guinn was obligated to abide by a special set of rules while a student at the university, the student said.

However, there were also many students who defended the expulsion. “Most of the response was mixed,” Guinn said. “But there was also a lot of support for me.”

The incident has opened up the debate on homosexuality at JBU, forcing students to confront the issue in a direct way. Guinn said his experience has changed many people’s opinions on homosexuality and Christianity.

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