Ave Maria Student Speaks Out About Homophobia, Harassment, and Death Threats
In 2011, New Times wrote about Ave Maria University, a $500 million Catholic catastrophe in the middle of the Corkscrew Swamp. Lawsuits, scandals, and a federal investigation threatened to ruin the pious project just four years into billionaire pizza mogul Tom Monaghan's plans.
Michael E. Miller Ave Maria
Two years later, one of Ave Maria's students is now stepping forward to tell his horror story of receiving harassment and death threats in the small town/school near Naples.
"Somebody needs to write about this place," Ross Hemminger says. "Somebody needs to write about the lives that they've destroyed."
"Mr. Hemminger clearly has an agenda, and his claims about his alleged treatment at Ave Maria University advances that agenda," the university said in a statement sent to Riptide. "Ave Maria University is proud of its warm and welcoming campus culture, and our growing enrollment is testimony to the fact that students who attend here are having an excellent experience."
Hemminger grew up in a blue-collar farming community in northwestern Ohio. He was six-foot-three and a devout Catholic. He was also openly gay.
"I had always been out of the closet, although I never really liked that term," he says. "It had never occurred to me that there were people out there who would hate me because of that."
He was in for a rude awakening at Ave Maria.
Hemminger was working at a bank in Ohio when he began receiving scholarship offers from the brand-new university. The financial aid offer was tempting enough to lure him to the middle of nowhere 1,000 miles south. "They are very aggressive about recruiting people because they have to be," he says.
He drove down with his mom and sister. The first sign that something was wrong, however, came when Hemminger was registering for classes in the library.
"The girl in front of me was seven or eight months pregnant," he recalls. "She introduced herself but then said, 'That's not my real name. I'm not telling anybody my real name because I'm giving the baby up for adoption.'
"She was in some program where, if you get pregnant, they'll give you a new identity," Hemminger says. "She told all friends she was studying in Europe for the semester. She was given a fake name and was living with a woman in the town.
"I just thought, That's insane! What that girl told me was insane!"
But that was only the beginning of Hemminger's problems.