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How are student groups formed at the U?

As a public institution, the University of Utah has a mandate to protect the First Amendment rights of all individuals on its campus. Because of the diversity of thought that exists among faculty, students and staff, it is unsurprising that tensions sometimes arise between groups and individuals. 

All students at the U have the right to form a registered student group, as long as the group does not break any laws or university policies. There are multiple types of recognized student organizations at the U, and just because a group is recognized does not mean the university supports its viewpoints.

“We have over 500 recognized student organizations on our campus,” said Josh Olszewski, the U’s student organizations coordinator. “We have a really wide variety of groups that represent different viewpoints and different interests. If we are allowing one viewpoint to exist, we have to allow another viewpoint to exist. Ultimately, the response to speech that you don’t agree with is more speech.”

Here is a breakdown of the three types of recognized student organizations at the U:

Registered student group

Any group of three current U students can form a registered student group. They are encouraged, but not required, to have an advisor. These groups are not a part of the university and cannot use university trademarks. They can use the “At Utah” logo set and verbiage. They cannot have financial accounts through the university and cannot receive donations under the university’s tax ID. Examples of registered groups include Anime Club, Fashion in Business, Vietnamese American Student Association (VASA) and Sustainability in Medicine Interest Group.

Affiliated student group

This category is only for sports clubs, fraternities and sororities. These groups are also not a part of the university, but they can use university marks with permission. Before a group can receive affiliated status, their application must be assessed by risk managers and the Office of General Counsel. Affiliated student groups must have an advisor and follow any additional department rules. They also cannot have financial accounts through the university and cannot receive donations under the university’s tax ID.

Sponsored student groups

These groups are a part of the university, are sponsored by a college, department or other unit of the university, and can use university marks. They must have an advisor and may have a dedicated workspace on campus. All of the group’s financial accounts are through the university and they may receive donations under the university tax ID. They can also contract as the university. They must go through university contracting procedures because they are considered university entities. 

Because sponsored student groups are part of the university, when those organizations speak they speak on behalf of the university. Therefore, students in these sponsored groups must work closely with their sponsoring unit whenever speaking on behalf of the group. Examples of sponsored student groups are the Student Opera Guild, Military Students at the U, German Conversation Club and Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Student Chapter at the U.  

Here is a breakdown of the different types of student organizations at the University of Utah. Click on the image to view larger.

All recognized student organizations—including affiliated and sponsored groups—must have a constitution and three student officers, and follow non-discrimination policies. All recognized student organizations have priority access to on-campus space reservations, access to ASUU funding and are required to complete training for officers and advisors (if applicable). Groups who violate university policy or law are subject to university sanctions.

If a student organization is not registered, they still have first amendment rights of speech and assembly, but are not recognized by the university, do not have access to ASUU funding and must pay community rates for the space they use. 

Affiliated and sponsored student groups must be compatible with the overall mission of the university. For example, the Mechanical Engineering Department could choose to sponsor a mechanical engineering club or the World Languages and Cultures Department could choose to fund a language and culture club.

“All student organizations are held to the standards in the code of student conduct,” Olszewski said. “If you believe that a student group is violating that code, you have the right to submit a complaint to the dean of students. We’ll take the appropriate actions to look into that. But just because you disagree with a group’s speech doesn’t necessarily mean they’re violating the student code.”

To learn more about the various student organizations at the U, and for information on how to start your own, visit