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Identity or Association: A Choice Faced By Every Student Organization

November 21, 2015

Thomas Jefferson has recently undertaken a campaign to reinvigorate the School’s image. In doing so, the School’s administration has hired a public relations firm to assist in fundamental decisions based on their experience. As a student and future alum, I recognize and appreciate the efforts the School is making. From Student Appreciation Days to the press released through The Advisor, I feel the School is fairly and reasonably representing the School as a quality institution of higher education and a pillar in the legal community.

To assure the School’s image is properly represented, the School’s administration has required all student organizations to gain prior approval before using the School’s name in any fashion. Student organizations may not use “Thomas Jefferson School of Law,” “Thomas Jefferson” (in reference to the School), “TJSL,” or anything of the like without using the School’s new, attractive logo.

The consequence of this is that all “approved” student organization logos appear virtually identical. All logos have the new Thomas Jefferson logo with the student organization’s name below; all having the same color and font. The unintended consequence of the School’s requirement is that student organizations are forced to choose between their individual identity or associating themselves with the School.

Last year, Intellectual Property Law Association (“IPLA”) decided informally to adopt a new logo and used it in conjunction with the organization’s existing logo that contained the now-prohibited outline of the building. As a school that is well on its way to establishing itself as being at the forefront of intellectual property, IPLA wanted to include “Thomas Jefferson School of Law” it its official logo. However, to do so, IPLA would have to use the School’s official logo and color scheme.

“When you see navy blue and gold or simply ‘Cal,’ you automatically think ‘U.C. Berkley,’” said Brian Del Vecchio, Chair of Thomas Jefferson’s Moot Court team. “This is not because Cal’s logo is only seen in conjunction with color or in a particular design. But rather that so many outlets have included either the name or color or both on promotional media. It’s a shame that we cannot even include ‘Thomas Jefferson’ or ‘TJSL’ on our shirts because we would really like to promote the School whenever possible.” When asked why he simply didn’t include the School’s official logo, he responded:

“Honestly, the colors and styles clash. The [Moot Court] team has worked hard at establishing the [burgundy] color and slogan [‘Keep Calm and Argue On’] as an integral part of the team. Moot Court has even gone so far as seeking Copyright and Trademark protection over these aspects. The members have expressed that the [School’s] new logo doesn’t fit with the overall look and feel of our shirts. So, we simply omitted it. We would have used the new logo if we could change the colors or perhaps the font to match our shirts but the School wouldn’t allow it.”

As the president of IPLA and to be fair and neutral, I propose a few logos to the members of the organization and asked them to vote on which logo the organization would like to use. The members overwhelming chose an original IPLA logo that necessarily excluded any reference to the School. IPLA recently cohosted a highly successful panel attended by over 110 members of San Diego’s legal community, over half of which were not students or faculty. Thousands of invites were distributed to the legal community and, unfortunately, Thomas Jefferson’s name was noticeably absent.

“The logo enforcement hasn’t affected JSU directly,” said Rachel Travis, President of Thomas Jefferson’s Jewish Student Union. “However, I can see how it would. Student organizations don’t have a large budget to begin with, so to have to use any of their budget towards creating new banners, T shirts, etc, that had the old logo, could prevent orgs from having the funds to put on events or use their funds in a different manner.”

To be clear, I’m not advocating that the School not take reasonable precautions to ensure the School is properly represented. I simply would like inherent flexibility in a student organization’s discretion to choose how to include the School in their promotional items. After all, simply including “Thomas Jefferson School of Law” in an established student organization logo wouldn’t confuse a person viewing the logo in any way.