Reese: Dixie State University Needs a New Name


Justin Prather

Snow Canyon State Park outside St. George, Utah. (Photo by Justin Prather | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Isaac Reese, Opinion Writer


Last year, the United States saw waves of protests against racism and police brutality following the murder of George Floyd. Utah was no exception to the collective anger that overcame the nation. This reignited a push to remove Confederate monuments and rename institutions with Confederate associations in the South. In southern Utah, Dixie State University might join the growing list of communities removing symbols and names associated with the Confederacy. Rep. Kelly Miles is sponsoring H.B. 278, which would trigger the process for the Dixie State University Board of Trustees to select a new name for the school. This move to eliminate association with the racist Confederacy is supported by DSU’s Board of Trustees, administration, faculty and student government — but there’s still opposition from alumni and the surrounding community. Miles and the DSU community are right to want to remove “Dixie” from the university’s name. Utah was not part of the Confederacy, and keeping the name links the university with racism.

Alumni Face the Consequences

According to research conducted with the Cicero Group, the name “Dixie” has negatively impacted DSU. The university’s graduates even feel the effects of the racist association in their careers. According to a statement by the university president, “22% of recent graduates looking for jobs outside of Utah have had an employer express concern that Dixie is on their resume.” 52% of out-of-state alumni claim the term makes the school look bad. 47% of alumni won’t wear any sort of DSU branding beyond state borders. The bottom line is that DSU alumni who worked hard to get a degree are ashamed to publicly display that accomplishment because the university has a name associated with white supremacy. It just makes sense to change the school’s name and avoid hindering current students’ post-college goals.

A Growing Institution

DSU and St. George are both growing. DSU enrollment increased by 26% between 2013 and 2018. Retention of students at DSU was 67% in 2018 but jumped to 83% in 2019. St. George has also developed the old regional airport into a new “Tech Ridge” to attract tech companies to the community. The growth of southern Utah is even more reason to eliminate “Dixie” from the university’s title. In the same Cicero study, 42% of people in the DSU recruiting region said “the Dixie name has a negative impact on their willingness to attend DSU or encourage a student to do so,” and 22% of Utah-based respondents agreed. 56% of those within the DSU recruiting region also said the name has a negative impact on the university’s image. The name “Dixie” is already showing how it hinders growth for the institution. If the state of Utah and St. George want to establish a respected reputation in the region and attract talent from outside, “Dixie” has to go. There is absolutely no reason for a Utah institution to continue associating itself with the Confederacy.

Supporters of Dixie

H.B. 278 was debated on the House floor on Feb. 10. As reported by Fox 13 News, much of the opposition to the bill came from southern Utah representatives. Rep. Rex Shipp claimed that “Dixie” was not racist but instead a relatable word. He was joined by Rep. Walt Brooks, who decried the effort to change the name as “cancel culture.” Brooks’ statement is odd in itself, as no one has called for DSU to be “canceled.” The institution will still exist and receive state funding after the name change. Most southern Utah lawmakers argued that the term relates to St. George’s pioneer heritage and not the Confederate south. But during the House debate, Rep. Timothy Hawkes pointed out that from the 1950s to the 1970s, the university embraced symbols related to the Confederacy. Regardless of any prior associations, the use of “Dixie” does not relate to Mormon pioneers anymore but instead glorifies the white nationalist history of the American South and the Confederacy.

Dixie State University’s current name is a stain on higher education in Utah. A publicly-funded university should not use language tied to the Confederacy, which was a rebellion against the US government by southern plantation owners who wanted to keep Black people in bondage. Today, the racist association with this term is common knowledge. DSU has found that the word hinders its ability to grow and recruit more students to its institution — it needs a new name that can better reflect the heritage of southern Utah. The Utah Senate should pass Miles’s bill to change the name of Dixie State University for a future that envisions inclusivity rather than celebrating the legacy of the white supremacist Confederate south.


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