ST. GEORGE — A petition to lift the ban against Greek organizations at Dixie State University has school officials fortifying their policy while 19 prospective sorority sisters turn to student rights advocates.
Indigo Klabanoff, a broadcast journalism major set to graduate in the spring, is asking the newly minted university to recognize the sorority she has dubbed Phi Beta Pi as an official campus club. Klabanoff first approached the school about organizing a sorority a year ago, and despite the school's opposition began recruiting members this spring.
"It was really important to me, the sisterhood, the leadership experience, and the home-away-from-home atmosphere," said Klabanoff, who said she has wanted to pledge a sorority since she was young. "When I realized there weren't sororities at Dixie, I was a little upset, so I said, 'This is my time. It's time to have some good leadership, some good morals and better understanding of what Greek life really is.'"
The university flatly denied Klabanoff's initial petition, saying it didn't want the perceived partying and drinking culture often associated with Greek life to be linked with the school.
"The Dixie State University administrative team and board of trustees have carefully considered both the positive and negative aspects of hosting fraternities and sororities on this campus," university officials said in a statement. "The judgment of both the DSU administration and trustees is that more students would be repelled rather than attracted by the 'partying' stereotype typically associated with a Greek system, and that is not the culture we want to encourage on our campus."
The school has since amended its bylaws governing campus clubs to specifically exempt Greek fraternities and sororities from receiving charters.
Klabanoff, who holds the title of Phi Beta Pi president, insists her organization promises more than parties and has declared the group's motto to be "Loyalty, personal integrity and timeless friendship through sisterhood," according to a Facebook page she created in May.
Klabanoff has taken her plight to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in hopes that growing publicity will put pressure on administrators to reconsider their staunch position. FIRE penned a letter to the school in August claiming the Greek ban violated student rights.
Further, Klabanoff claims a campus official implied in a phone call that her academic standing could be in jeopardy if she continues her campaign.
But Dixie Dean of Students Del Beatty said the school's position against Klabanoff's sorority runs deeper than concerns about a few parties.
One problem lies in the organization's name: Phi Beta Pi is the name of a medical fraternity in Texas. The name also runs afoul of an existing sorority, which complained earlier this year.
Klabanoff said she selected the group's letters by inverting the name of Pi Beta Phi, a 146-year-old national women's organization, as a tribute to the sorority.
In August, the longstanding organization contacted Klabanoff's group telling them to stop using trademarked names, colors, insignia and mottos affiliated with the official Pi Beta Phi.
Klabanoff responded the same day, saying she had removed trademarked materials and that other aspects of the group, while similar, were sufficiently different to distinguish her group, which claims no affiliation.
FIRE claims the dispute between the two organizations has been resolved. A representative from Pi Beta Phi did not respond to confirm whether the sorority has any ongoing concerns.
However, Dixie remains concerned that the constitution Klabanoff submitted contained language apparently lifted from Pi Beta Phi's website, Beatty said.
"There are potential legal ramifications if we were to allow or encourage this new group in using copyrighted trademarked symbols which belong to another national organization — especially after blatant plagiarism," Beatty said.
Beyond that, Beatty said representatives from the National Panhellenic Conference, a national support organization for sorority life in the U.S., have voiced disapproval to him concerning Klabanoff's efforts, which have not followed the organization's guidelines for Greek expansion.
As for claims that the students have a constitutional right to organize Greek communities that are recognized by the university, Beatty said his conversations with the school's legal counsel and the Utah Attorney General's Office indicate otherwise.
Klabanoff said she isn't trying to link her startup sorority to any national organizations; that would be up to future members to decide. She said she simply wants to establish a local club that is branded with Greek letters and is recognized by the school so members don't have to pay to rent rooms for campus events, can participate in the university's "merit money" program, and can take their place among campus organizations.
Klabanoff and her unofficial sisters are currently planning a "Pillars in the Community Women's Career Conference," which will take place on Dixie's campus in November.
The controversy has some of the group's 19 members feeling anxious, she said, but so far most have been supportive about the crusade to bring Greek life to the school and have deeply enjoyed the companionship and support they have found in one another.
Beatty maintains that Dixie has no intention of interfering with the group's right to associate and build friendships, and if they would just drop the Greek letters, they would likely be awarded club status, he said.
"It is my opinion that if this proposed new group at Dixie would simply change their name and charter under non-Greek letters and stop referring to themselves as 'Dixie's new sorority,' there would most likely be no issue or problem with them being approved and chartered," Beatty said.
But if students insist they want to be part of Greek organizations on campus, he says the solution is simple: Go to a school that has them.
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