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Dixie State name change bill to be heard by Senate after student protest

The Dixie State University bus that brought students to protest at the Utah State Capitol. (PHOTO: KSL Newsradio's Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Senate leaders said they will discuss a name change bill that begins the renaming process for Dixie State University (DSU).  The announcement came Wednesday after dozens of students came to the Capitol steps, demanding the bill be heard on the Senate floor.

Dozens of DSU students took the three-hour bus ride from St. George to Salt Lake City to call on the Senate to hear HB 278.  They were protesting reports that the bill was stalled in the Senate after it passed through the House.

RELATED:  Poll: Most Utahns wouldn’t change name of Dixie State University

Student-athlete Deven Osborne was one of the protesters.  He said the school has tried to recruit players to their football team, even offering scholarships.  However, the word “Dixie” convinced those athletes to look elsewhere.

“We have had a lot of kids turn down scholarships based off of the name. There were a lot of talented kids we could have had represent our school and become phenomenal athletes and students, as well,” Osborne said.

(DSU students calling for HB 278 to be discussed in the Senate. Credit: Paul Nelson)

He and other protesters carried signs and chanted phrases like “love the school, not the name,” and “the racist name has got to go.”  Osborne says other students have already been turned away from graduate schools because of the word “Dixie” on their resume.

“We’re tired of being in interviews and hearing, ‘Why is your school named Dixie?’ when we should be talking about our qualifications,” he said.

Other students said the word “Dixie” doesn’t have the same racist connotations in southern Utah as it does in other parts of the country, which could be why so many Utahns don’t see the word as racist. 

However, international student Guillem Parra grew up in Barcelona, Spain, and he said the word is becoming widely recognized all over the world as a sign of support for the southern states during the American Civil War.

“You learn about the Civil War.  You learn about the trials and tribulations that this country has to go through.  You learn about slavery and you learn about ‘Dixie” and the meaning that term has outside of Utah,” Parra said.

(Students and their signs at the Utah State Capitol. Credit: Paul Nelson)

At the same time, there were a pair of counter-protesters at the State Capitol who said the name ought to be protected, and that changing it would be akin to erasing history.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with the South,” one woman said.  “I am proud of my heritage and my ancestors,” said another.

Senate leaders had high praise for the students and their behavior while they protested outside of the Capitol building.  President Stuart Adams said they will discuss a modified version of the bill that requires community input before the name change takes place.