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 college went so far as to retroactively amend the school’s student club bylaws to prohibit such groups from recognition. Last week, FIRE sent a letter urging Dixie State to allow the student organization to be recognized.
University President Stephen Nadauld explained to local newspaper The Spectrum that Dixie State does not recognize “campus fraternities and sororities nor club names that include Greek alphabet letters that infer they are a fraternity or sorority.” Neither Dixie State’s administration nor its trustees “believe that a Greek Life program is congruent with [Dixie State’s] mission, or in the best interest of Dixie State University at this time.”
But Dixie State’s student newspaper, the Dixie Sun News, reports that Klabanoff was told Dixie State would recognize a group that serves all the same functions and engages in all the same activities as Klabanoff’s proposed group—if it was called “PBP” instead. PBP, it seems, would be congruent with Dixie State’s mission.
Making Dixie State’s asserted reasoning for rejecting the group all the more suspect is the fact that until Klabanoff got in touch with Dean of Students Del Beatty regarding Phi Beta Pi, the school had no written policy forbidding student groups from using Greek letters in their titles. Following Klabanoff’s attempts to start the group, though, the interclub council voted to approve a bylaw (PDF) allowing Greek letters only for national honor societies:
No club at DSU is allowed to use the name of any national fraternity or sorority in their club name. Likewise, clubs are not permitted to use the Greek alphabet in their club name.
Though the policy appears under the heading “Fraternities and sororities,” it is unclear whether Dixie State would recognize, say, a group formed by students from Greece who want to abbreviate a club name using Greek letters.
In FIRE’s letter to President Nadauld last week, we addressed the clash between Dixie State’s ad hoc bylaw changes and its legal and moral obligations as a public university:
In addition to violating basic principles of the First Amendment, by which Dixie State is legally bound, Dixie State’s decision to deny Phi Beta Pi’s recognition violates its own policies. Not only does Dixie State’s Student Rights and Responsibilities Code acknowledge students’ “constitutional and statutory rights and privileges,” it also explicitly endorses students’ right to “free and open discussion, inquiry, expression, and lawful assembly.” Further, the Code promises that “Students have a right … to form student organizations for any lawful purpose…,” giving Phi Beta Pi the clear right to exist on campus, provided it complies with Dixie State’s requirements for gaining recognition. Banning the use of Greek letters in a club’s name contravenes this explicit promise of free expression and assembly and significantly oversteps Dixie State’s constitutional authority.
FIRE has its eye on Dixie State and will keep updates coming for Torch readers.