GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Nicole Sweda met her wife, Annica, in high school. Nicole was on the drumline in the marching band, and Annica played the flute. They've been together for eight years.
Their love story would ultimately cost Nicole her job.
Nicole worked for the Center for Social Research, a division of Calvin University founded in the 1970s. She first started working there during undergrad at Calvin. They do things like facilitating research-based surveys, or focus groups for nonprofits and corporations.
After graduating with her degree in social work, Nicole went to work full-time at the CSR.
The building sits just off of Calvin's campus. The sign out front makes no mention of Calvin University. Nicole says that's because the two entities don't really work together directly, or closely.
"You sort of have to be told we're even there, most students, unless they want to work for us, aren't even aware we exist," Nicole said.
The CSR and Calvin University plan to separate legally by the end of April.
In the announcement of the split, the University says it's because the CSR "has developed in directions that require greater entrepreneurial freedom, access to capital, and agility, and this move will open up new horizons."
Nicole says there's more to that story.
“I had to make a decision, do I want to stay quiet that I’m the person that this happened to? Or do I want to talk about it now? I chose to talk about it now,” Nicole said.
Speaking up, after articles in the Calvin Chimes, the student newspaper,covered the pending separation.
Nicole says two months ago, she got an email requesting she meet with the university's provost.
"I was very anxious the whole rest of the day, and leading up to the meeting,” she said.
Nicole was met by the provost, as well as university human resources.
“They opened in prayer. Then they asked me two questions. If I had been married to Annica since October of this year, I said yes. And then if we had been living together since May 2020, which I also said yes to,” Nicole said.
Nicole says the university informed her that she was in violation of their policies on same-sex marriage and that she could no longer be employed at the University.
“They believe that God made queer students as they are, but they should be called to celibacy,” Nicole said.
Nicole wasn't fired at that time. She was told if she continued to work at the CSR, and the agreement to legally separate fell through, she would likely lose her job. If the separation went through, she could continue to work at the CSR uninterrupted.
“It is hard to wrestle with the fact that I should be someone that they’re proud to say works for them. And they’re not. Only because I’m married to a woman,” Nicole said.
About two weeks ago, Nicole quit. She says for one, very specific reason: to speak.
“I met a lot of amazing people at Calvin. Most of my very close friends are people I met at Calvin. I do have love for people at Calvin. I do not have love for the institution,” Nicole said.
Nicole says who she's married to never affected her work at the CSR.
“You want to believe that what you’re doing somewhere..even if they have different beliefs than you.. that what you are working on matters. And your role there matters.” Nicole said.
FOX 17 reached out to Calvin University for a statement. They said: "As a matter of policy, Calvin University does not comment on specific personnel matters."
Nicole has started aGo Fund Me to help other LGBTQ+ students at Calvin.
Nicole's support system has started a petition with hopes to create meaningful change.