Bill on changing Dixie State University’s name passes Utah legislature
The Utah state legislature passed a bill that would allow Dixie State University to possibly change its controversial name that is linked to the Confederacy and the period of slavery in the South.
The measure passed through both chambers of the state legislature, ultimately gaining final passage through the Utah House on Wednesday by a 48-22 vote.
It now heads to the desk of Gov. Spencer Cox (R), who said last month that he “would be prepared to sign.”
HB278 would initiate the process for Dixie State University, a school with more than 12,000 students located in the southwest city of St. George, Utah, to move forward with the renaming process in consultation with the state’s Board of Higher Education.
The bill would also require the board of trustees to create a Heritage Committee aimed at “preserving the heritage, culture and history of the region and institution” if it ultimately decides to drop “Dixie” after a review process.
Dixie State’s administration in December declared that it wanted to change the name of the school. However, it needed authorization from the legislature since it is a publicly funded university.
The move came after the school commissioned Cicero Group to study the positive and negative impacts of continuing to include Dixie in the university’s name.
The study found that 64 percent of respondents outside of Utah related the term “Dixie” to racism and the Confederacy. Twenty-eight percent of students, staff and alumni said they are uncomfortable wearing the name Dixie on apparel when outside of the state.
It also found that the name may cause a headache for students after graduation — at least 22 percent of recent out-of-state graduates reported that a potential employer had expressed concern about “Dixie” appearing on their résumé.
The name itself dates back to 1857 when 38 families moved to the area to establish a town and grow cotton. Some of the area’s early settlers were former slave owners and slave drivers, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Dixie State University was established in 1911. In the region, “Dixie” is used to honor the area’s pioneering heritage of grit, service and sacrifice and the phrase is included in 150 businesses.
Despite the difference, the school “hurt the local meaning” when it adopted Confederate symbols in the 1950s, according to the university’s website. Dixie State ultimately dropped its use of the Confederate flag in 1993 and its Rodney the Rebel mascot representing a Confederate soldier in 2007.
“While local, private businesses with Dixie in their names can declare that their brand identity is not connected to Confederate ideology and never has been, the University, a public institution, unfortunately, cannot make the same assertions,” the school website states.
In a statement on Wednesday, officials celebrated the bill’s passage through the state House and said they were “confident that we can identify a name that enables our institution to move forward in the very best interest of our students and community.”
“This recommendation was made in honor of our founders’ willingness to sacrifice for the greater good,” the school said. “Our pioneering spirit cannot be erased and will be boldly honored and held as the standard for all future achievements at our institution. We appreciated working with our legislators to create the heritage initiative as part of the legislation to more fully share our story with the world.”