Student organizations struggle to find their identity in midst of trademark dispute


A compilation of old logos that were not accepted under the new trademark guidelines.

Devyn Leeson

It can take years and even decades for a student club or organization to build its identity, brand recognition and overall place within the greater Ames community of which tens of thousands of students actively participate in.

With many of these group’s identities being built upon how they represent Iowa State, the implementation of new trademark guidelines, which forbid certain symbols and words within logos and names, have student groups scrambling to find a new identity.

While the university has said the trademark regulations were implemented to protect themselves and are similar to initiatives from other universities around the country, students have argued the protections have come at a price, especially when the changes were brought on before the start of the fall semester with little time to react.

“We are seeing that students feel that they can’t be proud of what they are doing here, that they aren’t a part of Iowa State University, that the university is trying to disassociate themselves with these student groups,” Student Government Speaker Cody Woodruff said.

Woodruff used the example of the Iowa State Chess Club, which is now called the Ames Collegiate Chess Club.

“There is no Ames college, it is Iowa State University,” Woodruff said.

Although student organizations have the ability to change the “Iowa State” or “ISU” at the beginning of their club name to “at ISU” toward the end of their name, student organizations have said this further widens the gap between being an important part of Iowa State and being associated with the university.

“There is a definite sense of betrayal,” said Adam Jenke, president of the Ames Collegiate Chess Club. “I think many of us see these policies as the university abandoning us, which is particularly hard for the many clubs that have contributed so much to the University. At the end of the day, we are not simply clubs that are at ISU, we are ISU.”

Jenke said it is strange the university wouldn’t want to identify with many of the groups representing the university in a positive way.

Some groups have historically significant logos based in long-standing tradition. For these groups, they face an extremely difficult decision: change their historic logos, or stop being recognized as a club at Iowa State.

“We are considering nothing new at this time,” said Dan Burden, academic adviser for ISU Trap and Skeet in an email to the Daily. “It is an incredible hassle and time-wasting experience to have to go through this process [again] for no good reason. Our club has had an ‘Approved Vintage Athletic Department’ logo since 1983. So, we are coming up on the end of our functional club year at the end of the next month. Next year’s officers can decide to 1.) go with no identity, 2.) come up with a modified logo, or 3.) take the club private and completely non-ISU under the Ames Collegiate Shooting Sports LLC, an umbrella organization that helps us with our fundraising.”

Other groups that have come into compliance with the trademark policy, like Greenlee School TV — formerly known as ISU TV — have gone through issues finding their meaning after the changes.

“Being known as ISU TV, people knew exactly what we were about — reporting for Iowa State University,” said Hollie Schlesselman, general manager for Greenlee School TV. “Now with this whole Greenlee School TV, it’s a name, just not our name.”

Since the name change, Schlesselman explained the group has had to change their logo, their green screen designs and all of their clothing that identified them during events. The year before implementation of the trademark policy, ISU TV had new polos made, meaning the club wasted time developing and paying for the clothes.

ISU TV was also in the process of developing another personalized set of club clothing when the policy was announced, which Schlesselman said created a “huge waste of time.” Now the club is required to do that work over again as the trademark policy forbids the trademarked content on the clothing.

Even though the university set aside funds for groups to develop new logos and get new clothing, Schlesselman said there was a huge amount of time wasted. This time sink and barrier to redevelopment was one reason Burden said the trap and skeet team would not be developing a new logo.

“Under times of great budgetary stress, what is the point of messing with existing approved identity programs; how much administrator and staff paid-time and benefits, and student time-away from more important academic and student-governance issues, has this cost our institution?” Burden said in an email to the Daily.

For Schlesselman, the rebranding of ISU TV has hurt how members feel about the program.

“It’s like a parent disowning me,” Schlesselman said. “We want to be able to represent the university, especially as we are reporting on our school.”

As a result, Schlesselman said she has seen membership with Greenlee School TV decline following name change and that they are “struggling to survive.” One cause she sees is that the name change has led people to misunderstand the mission of Greenlee School TV with people unaware on what they are reporting on.

“Good god, we don’t report on everything about the Greenlee School, we will continue to and have always reported on everything ISU, but people won’t understand that,” Schlesselman said.

The university outlined one option they could use to increase student organizations ability to rebrand in a letter sent out to students Monday. The letter mentioned K-State and how they have a specific logo that is used within student organizations.

This idea was not well received by student organizations, however.

“This letter has made a lot of people more pissed off,” Woodruff said. “Things are getting worse not better … some of the other responses I have gotten: ‘there is consideration for a new [student organization] logo, that isn’t what we want and who knows if it will even happen,’ ‘I don’t like it, I just want people to know that we are upset and will work together to make a better policy,’ ‘I am personally in favor of everyone ignoring the current trademark policy, if they won’t hear us, we won’t hear them.’”

The last response Woodruff received — the potential situation of a protest — was a sentiment reflected by both Schlesselman and Jenke. In the meantime Jenke has started a petition denouncing the trademark policy and calling for an immediate freeze of its implementation to slow down and have a further discussion on the trademark policies.

If those aren’t listened to, Jenke, Schlesselman and Woodruff said the next step would be protest by students — who would refuse to follow the trademark policy — go back to using the old names and possibly even use their old logos.

Schlesselman said she is still calling her organization ISU TV and is thinking about using the old logos in defiance of the policy itself, and Jenke agreed even though he said the chess club is “not an activist group and is really just a bunch of people who like chess.”

Jenke said if that doesn’t work, they could pursue a lawsuit against the university, something Woodruff mentioned in a meeting between student organizations about the trademark policy.

“When [Woodruff] said that at the meeting, I knew we weren’t going to let this happen to us, let them do this to us, let this rest,” Schlesselman said.

Woodruff has since said the idea of a lawsuit would be an extreme scenario and one of many other options students could look to. He said the recent letter was troublesome to him as Iowa State did not take responsibility “for the issues they have caused student’s with their miscommunication.”

“They don’t take responsibility,” Woodruff said. “Nowhere did they apologize. The words apology, apologize, regret or forgive were not anywhere in that letter, which is two and a half pages, and that is something I have been very adamant about in my communication with administrators.”

The issues behind trademark started in 2013 when a campus chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) tried selling a t-shirt design with Cy holding a marijuana leaf. After Iowa State revoked their ability to sell the merchandise, NORML sued the university, eventually making it to a federal court that ruled that the university could not restrict NORMLs ability to sell the clothing without changing their guidelines.

While the university immediately implemented a tiered system for groups access to certain trademarked symbols in 2013, the trademark office denied that the recent changes had anything to do with the NORML lawsuit. That is, until the letter released Monday by the trademark office said the new guidelines had been influenced by it and other court decisions.