A student group at a public university in Utah has been told that it may not use Greek letters in its name. Why? Because the university believes that Greek letters will give the public the impression that it is a "party school" and, according to a lawyer for the university, the school has a "compelling interest" in avoiding that perception.
But, as Dixie State University student and founder of Phi Beta Pi Indigo Klabanoff points out, the school has already chosen to recognize "The Organization of Good Parties" and other student organizations that explicitly promote partying in their listings on the school's website.
So, there seems to be a little bit of a disconnect here.
For nearly a year, Dixie State University senior Indigo Klabanoff has been working to start a local sorority at her public Utah university that would be dedicated to providing services for the community and learning opportunities for its members. Dixie State administrators have flatly stated that Klabanoff's sorority, Phi Beta Pi, will not be approved as an officially recognized student group as long as it has Greek letters in its name. The university went so far as to retroactively amend its student club bylaws to prohibit such groups from recognition.
FIRE wrote to the university in August:
FIRE recognizes Dixie State University's desire not to be seen as a "party" school, and the principles by which it declines at this time to establish chapters of national fraternities and sororities. The maintenance of this image, however, must be balanced with its students' rights to freedom of expression and association in accordance with Dixie State's legal and moral obligations under the First Amendment. FIRE asks that Dixie State promptly reject this unconstitutional restriction on the rights of its students to form clubs using Greek letters and to assemble in exercise of their First Amendment right to freedom of association. Dixie State must amend the ICC bylaws in accordance with the First Amendment and, if Phi Beta Pi meets all requirements for recognition, it must recognize the organization.
Even after FIRE became involved in the case, Dixie State has still refused to budge and Indigo, a senior, is running out of time to make a university-recognized Phi Beta Pi a reality. The unrecognized group has a Women's Career Conference planned for next month and they would love to host the event with the school's support. For the conference, that support would mean a waiver of the $225 fee to reserve a room on campus.
Check out this video (also shot, edited and produced by FIRE's Susan Kruth) to learn more about Indigo's story:
Dixie State's creative approach to keeping Greek organizations off campus is not surprising to those of us who work in student rights. Earlier this year, FIRE became involved at Trinity College in Connecticut after the administration instituted a new social code that requires opposite sex membership quotas for all campus groups and prohibits selective membership. Since most national fraternities and sororities are single-sex by charter and selective by nature, this effectively expels such organizations from campus. Trinity's approach is one of the sneakier ways I've seen a college to try to placate former-Greek donors but at the same time undo the college's Greek system. In contrast, Dixie State's war on an entire ancient alphabet is remarkably direct.
As FIRE's Peter Bonilla said in a press release today:
In this instance, Dixie State students seek only to establish a normal student club with a Greek letter name. But administrative hostility towards students interested in Greek life is becoming a disturbing trend nationwide. Trinity College prohibits students from participating in unrecognized social organizations. Wesleyan University tried to ban students from "taking meals" in houses owned by unrecognized groups. And the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's kangaroo-court treatment of a fraternity sparked the legislature to pass a bill guaranteeing students the right to counsel in campus hearings. While people may object to aspects of Greek life on many campuses, sacrificing freedom of association and expression is not the answer.