New guideline may remove “Pitt,” “Panther” from student group names


The change will affect many student organizations at Pitt.

By Janine Faust and Emily Wolfe

Pitt plans to implement guidelines preventing independent student organizations from using University trademarks or wordmarks such as “Pitt” or “Panthers” in their names, according to the University.

Under the guidelines, independent student organizations — most student organizations on campus — would not be allowed to use the words “University of Pittsburgh,” “Pitt” or any other Pitt trademark or wordmark like “Panthers” because the organizations are legally separate entities from the University. They would still be able to use the words in their title to identify where the organization is located by wording it as “at Pitt” or “at the University of Pittsburgh.”

“The Office of Student Life has been working closely with Student Government Board leaders to review these guidelines and will continue to provide updates to student organizations as these conversations progress,” Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick said in a Friday email.

Student government president Zechariah Brown said in a phone call that SGB is “definitely” working to allow student organizations to keep their current names. Brown said he mentioned concerns about the change in an unrelated Friday meeting with Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner and has already scheduled a meeting with University officials next week to discuss the changes.

Brown said the University currently plans to implement the policy in the fall of 2020, though Zwick said the University is working on the timeline with SGB.

“We’re in the very early stages of figuring out what we can do about it,” Brown said, adding that he understood administrative concerns about student groups using University logos like the Pitt script, but thought student groups should be allowed to use the words “Pitt” and “Panther” in their names.

News about the policy began to spread after SORC announced the change at student leadership training this week. A petition is circulating asking Pitt not to implement the rule, calling it “devastating to the brands and image” of the hundreds of student organizations which use one of the words in their name. As of 6 p.m. on Friday, the petition had 160 signatures.

Justin Fernsler, the technical director of Pitt’s 32-year-old race car design club Panther Racing, said members of his club are concerned that changing their name would affect their name recognition. The group raises some of its funds through sponsored posts on Instagram, where it has more than 3,000 followers, and officers are worried rebranding would affect their relationships with sponsors.

They’re also concerned about the possibility of having to buy new equipment, Fernsler said.

“We have a lot of expensive equipment and a lot of our stuff is branded as Panther Racing, too,” Fernsler said. “Depending on how far they want to take it, we might have to replace a lot of equipment.”

The guideline only mentions independent student groups, not the set of sponsored student groups that make up SGB’s Assembly, which includes Pitt Program Council and Pitt Serves.

Some universities in the United States observe similar policies. Organizations at the University of Houston may not use their school’s name or an abbreviation of it as part of their title, except to designate location or chapter. Registered student organizations at Montana State University may identify themselves only as “The [Club Name] Club of Montana State University, a Registered Student Organization.”

Pitt Archery president Julia Lam said in an email that she would be disappointed if her club was not allowed to represent the school in name and logo while competing, viewing it as a way to showcase Pitt pride.

“I founded the team and am proud of my past 3 years’ work on developing this club’s brand recognition within USA Archery, and changing it now would feel like a loss,” she wrote. “Our leadership has been discussing options to change our name in a way that would comply with the new rules but still preserve the identity of the club, and are waiting to hear more about this development.”

Ian Pamerlau, the former president of Pitt Fencing and current president of the Pitt Jazz Ensemble, said in an email that he found the guideline to be “not only unfair, but a little insulting.” He said while student groups are legally considered independent, since many receive funding and resources through University departments, SGB or SORC, he views them as still closely connected to Pitt.

“In addition, most clubs (for example competitive club sports) go to conferences and competition that compete for Pitt, and only Pitt students may be members of the clubs,” he wrote. “In summary, we, the clubs of the University, follow all the rules of the University and effectively are an extension of the University, but do not get the respect of being a part of it.”