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Dixie State feeling growing pains in becoming a university

Published September 30, 2013 7:18 am

New status and demographics mean more divergent voices on the St. George campus.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Becoming a university means more than a new name, revamped logo and enhanced prestige. For the Dixie State University, it also means divergent voices on campus, including a former newspaper sex columnist and a would-be sorority sister.

Indigo Klabanoff is a Boston transplant and a 22-year-old communication major who decided she wanted to start a sorority last November.

"I've always liked the idea. ... You learn wonderful things about how to network, leadership skills and getting out into the community," she said. And though she changed her goal from a nationally chartered chapter to a school club, she has refused to remove Greek letters from its name.

School officials are "hoping that I will go away," she said, "but I won't."

In her corner is a national campus free-speech organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has formally protested a student Club Council decision to disallow clubs with Greek letters.

"There is simply no authority by which Dixie State can constitutionally refuse to recognize an organization simply because of the group's use of the Greek alphabet (or any other alphabet) in its name," wrote Peter Bonilla, director of the Individual Rights Defense Program.

Image anxiety • For Dixie State President Stephen Nadauld, though, the introduction of Greek life onto the St. George campus would damage the school's reputation by implying that students like to overindulge.

"Dixie has been working for nearly two decades to change the 'party' image that was mistakenly attached to our campus," he wrote in an email to Dean of Students Del Beatty.

Beatty said the council decided only honors clubs could use Greek letters because "this is not something we want to fight right now. It's not worth the fight. We have bigger things to do right now."

Klabanoff could likely have the club she proposed, he said, if she would simply use another name.

"Do you really care about sisterhood and philanthropy ... or are you making some kind of political statement about the lack of Greek life at Dixie State?" he asked. "Because that's what it's starting to feel like to me."

For now, Klabanoff said she and about 17 other girls are already meeting informally. "We are moving forward," she said. "Although we are not an approved club, we hope to get recognized."

Pushing boundaries • Klabanoff is not the only student making herself heard on campus.

"With every semester I see certain students just kind of punching at those boundaries that were always there before," said Matthew Jacobson, editor of the Dixie Sun News.

Last year, students, professors and activists pushed to remove the word Dixie, with its Deep South associations, from the school's name when it became a university, though ultimately the majority supported keeping the name.

The makeup of the student body is also changing. The number of students from California, Arizona and Nevada jumped by up to 8 percent this year, according to enrollment officials, as recruiters looked for out-of-staters to replace students leaving on Mormon missions after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lowered the age limits for such service a year ago.

"With more students, you're going to get more diversity and different opinions," said Katie McKellar, a 20-year-old student from Sandy. "I think it just shows the growth in the school, how students are trying to push the school to grow in its own ways."

Last semester, McKellar became one of those minority voices when she started writing the student paper's first sex column.

Sex is "a big part of college life," she said. " ... I thought it would be interesting to start a column."

Erasing the erotic • When the first Erotic Topic hit newsstands in January, then-dean of the School of Business and Communication William Christensen sent an email demanding the paper stop publishing it.

But the dean quickly reconsidered and reversed course "to preserve the rights of free speech and freedom of expression for all students," said Dixie State spokesman Steve Johnson.

McKellar continued writing the column every other week throughout the semester, tackling sex and nutrition, alternative contraception and pornography as part of a healthy sex life. She said several people thanked her in person for taking on sensitive issues, but the column wasn't universally popular.

When a student collected more than 120 signatures on a petition to end it, the newspaper put the question to a vote on Facebook.

More than 1,000 people responded, and hundreds left comments. Ultimately, 57 percent said the paper should stop publishing it. Though Jacobson said he would have kept the column despite the results, McKellar decided to stop writing it.

"Maybe I was a little more optimistic that people wouldn't be so critical," she said. "Because I got a lot of support, it just felt like I wanted to keep it going, [but] with so many critics it got really stressful."

As Dixie grows into its new role and shifting demographics, these likely won't be the last heated conversations.

"We expected this to happen once we became a university," Johnson said. "One of the great things about a university is that it brings together a blending of cultures and opinions. We're learning as we go along."

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst