EDUCATION

Utah Tech recommended as new name for Dixie State, opponents still fighting

Oct 27, 2021, 11:51 AM | Updated: 5:57 pm
poll name change Dixie State...
An entrance sign at Dixie State University is pictured in St. George on Sunday, Oct.11, 2020. Photo: Ravell Call, Deseret News

ST GEORGE, Utah — The Utah Board of Higher Education has officially recommended after a unanimous vote that state lawmakers change the name of Dixie State University to Utah Tech University.

The recommendation is the next step after the school’s Board of Trustees approved the name over the summer. Talk of changing the school’s name began after concern that it may have unintended racist connotations.

In a statement released after the vote as reported by the Deseret News, Board Chairman Harris Simmons said DSU worked extensively with the public and other stakeholders to “develop a strong name that will lead the university into the future both locally and nationally.”

Simmons also said he and the Dixie State Board continues to “look forward to our continued work with DSU and the Legislature to see the proposed name of Utah Tech University forward.”

The name change process has been “beyond exhaustive”

Tiffany Wilson, chairwoman of the DSU Board of Trustees added that the process behind the name change for Dixie State University was “beyond exhaustive.”

“Regardless of our personal attachments or previous perceptions, it has become very clear that this name is a challenge. If it’s a challenge today, just think about the challenge that it will continue to become over time.

“I believe it will only become more and more challenging for students with each passing decade,” Wilson said.

Wilson understands the emotional connection attached to the current school name and mascot.  She told the board she grew up with that name and loved attending DSU.  However, she believes many people had “blinders on” to the possible problems that could come with using confederate imagery for as long as the school did.

“There’s pictures of us all waving our confederate flags at every football and basketball game all over that yearbook,” she said.

Wilson said even though the history of Utah’s Dixie is different than that of southern states before the Civil War, employers and universities outside of the state don’t see any difference.  She said other schools are hesitant to create partnerships with DSU, and students are being rejected in the job market because of the word “Dixie.”

Some pushback before the unanimous vote

While no one on the board voted against the name, some members didn’t feel they were presenting the best choice to lawmakers.  Scott Theurer suggested the name should highlight the region more precisely, plus, he believes the name “Utah Tech University” could cause branding problems for the other technical colleges in the state.

He said, “I don’t believe that ‘Utah Tech University’ is the appropriate name for one institution representing seven percent of the population and about six percent of the credentials honored each year.”

Others, like Stacey Bettridge, asked the board members if they had a plan in case the school loses support from the local community.

“[They might] wake up one day and go, ‘Yeah, that’s not my university, anymore,’” he said.

However, Wilson said the school will continue to reach out to community members, and that support for the name change appears to be growing.

Our donations, this past year, when people said no one would give to us, they’re higher than we’ve ever had,” Wilson said.  “Our donations have increased.”

Debate over “Dixie State” still isn’t over

Since the final decision on the university’s name change falls to lawmakers, that’s where critics of the change will aim their messaging.  The group Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition announced they’re launching an ad campaign aimed at legislators to convince them to keep the name as is.

“We will stand firm and do whatever we can to keep ‘Utah’s Dixie’ from being demonized by those wishing to engage in persistent attacks on the culture, history, heritage, and tradition of southern Utah,” said coalition member Tim Anderson in a statement. 

The group said they’ve already paid for television spots, but they’re going to “deploy a targeted campaign” consisting of radio ads, billboards, social media posts, email, and direct mail.


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Utah Tech recommended as new name for Dixie State, opponents still fighting