Small crowds of protesters clashed outside the Utah Capitol on Tuesday before joining a legislative hearing and arguing their case over the proposal to change the name of Dixie State University to Utah Tech.
With lawmakers due to vote on the name change on Wednesday, the Interim Education Committee held a final hearing on the matter, hearing about three hours of debate Tuesday afternoon from students, educators, and homeowners. leading company and alumni.
An hour before the education committee meeting, the two students supporting Utah Tech’s name and pro-Dixie individuals were gathered outside waiting to be allowed in. Sometimes standing in the rain, they would stand on the steps outside and chant at each other, the students screaming. âUtah Tech will help us growâ and the pro-Dixie crowd responds with âwe love Dixieâ.
Debates over the name “Dixie”, often criticized for evoking the Old South and because of the school’s past use of Confederate colors, mascots and images, have been going on for over a year as senior school officials lobbied for a new name.
Following: Confederate flags, mock slave auctions, minstrel shows: can Utah’s “Dixie” be separated from past associations?
DSU administrators and the state’s school board both voted to change the name in 2020, but the Utah Senate refused to approve a change, instead passing what members called a bill. compromise that instructed school officials to further study the name and potentially allow Dixie to remain in the name.
Part of that compromise was that if Dixie was no longer on behalf of the university, the board would have to create a ‘heritage committee’ that would ‘preserve the heritage, culture and history of the region and of the institution â. according to the final bill that lawmakers approved in March.
Since then, a committee responsible for studying the name has voted to abandon the “Dixie” job, proposing Utah Polytechnic State University first. DSU administrators responded to the backlash from the name “Utah Poly” by proposing “Utah Tech University” instead, voting unanimously for the change earlier this year. Last month, the state’s Higher Education Council also voted unanimously to approve the change.
At the hearing, opponents of the name change argued that the fight for “Dixie” is now part of the Culture Cancellation Wars, arguing that critics of the name are too sensitive.
Victor Iverson, a member of the three-member Washington County commission that recently voted to pass a resolution to keep the name “Dixie”, was part of a lengthy presentation claiming the name is unrelated to Confederation but at school Mormon pioneer roots. He said the university had moved away from Confederate symbols in the past and now the name is more about the welcoming spirit of Washington County residents.
Others disagreed, however, with supporters of the name change claiming the change was not about the past but the future, providing a better opportunity for the school to sell itself to new students and graduates. to be successful once they’ve moved on.
DSU President Richard “Biff” Williams explained why the name should be changed, arguing that the change is “ambitious” in what the university wants to be and noting that the university has increased its STEM academic offerings to more 100% in recent years. .
“I am convinced that the process has resulted in the best name for our institution, our region and our state,” he said.
Williams said after the hearing that he was impressed with the arguments the students made for the change, noting that they remained focused on the real world evidence.
Following: Utah Council on Higher Education Votes Unanimously to Change Dixie State University Name
“I have to stand up for the students and what I was really proud of today was how much our students speak out, how much those who are in favor of change speak out,” he said. declared. “They’re not based on emotion. They’re looking at the data.”
Several local business leaders argued that the new name could provide better life opportunities for graduates and better economic opportunities for the community.
Jed Beck, chief revenue officer of Vasion, a St. George-based software company, said a change in Utah Tech would help his company recruit better talent into the tech industry.
Bruce Hearst, a longtime St. George resident and former Major League baseball player, served on the name change committee and supported Utah Tech’s proposal.
“I am still personally anxious,” he said after the hearing. “I know it’s a vote and there’s a lot of work going on, but I’m optimistic about the outcome and hope to make a change.”
The change would be costly, costing around $ 2.7 million to transition to Utah Tech, according to Williams.
Vote for the name of “Dixie” next Wednesday
Tuesday’s meeting was just a hearing and the education committee held no votes on whether to change Dixie’s name. State lawmakers could vote on the issue on Wednesday, the second day of the current special session of the Legislature.
The name “Dixie” has remained a hot topic in St. George, with arguments that have mushroomed in recent months, becoming a key issue during the campaign trail for last week’s municipal election for city council and mayor. Although St. George officials do not have control of the name, all six of St. George’s election candidates strongly supported the DSU name.
Southern Utah – especially Washington County – has been called Dixie since Mormon pioneers came to the area in the 1860s to grow cotton. These pioneers affectionately referred to the Dixie area because the community had agricultural aspirations similar to those in the southern United States at a time when slavery was still legal in some states. Some of these pioneers came from the South and had owned slaves, although no slavery was practiced in Utah.
The name stuck and “Dixie Normal School” began using the Dixie name in 1916, just a few years after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened the private “St. George Stake Academy” in 1911. The state started funding the school in 1935 and it became a university in 2007.
At various points in its history, the school adopted imagery of the Old South, and students participated in events that many find offensive today. The mascot was the Rebels, the school yearbook was called The Confederate, sometimes with the Confederate flag as a cover, and a statue of Confederate soldiers was prominently placed in one of the school’s main public spaces. . Students held mock slave auctions to raise funds and held minstrel shows, with some activities spanning into the 1990s.
All of these features have been phased out over the past decades. In 1993, the school abandoned its use of Confederate symbology, and in the late 2000s, the school changed its mascot from Rebels to Red Storm, and later to Trailblazers.
Over the past year, many members of the community have fought to keep “Dixie” alive. The Washington County commission wrote a formal letter asking the legislature to keep Dixie’s name, and at the meeting, as each commissioner voiced their point of view, a host of “Dixie” supporters responded with loud applause.
A group called the Defending Southwest Utah Heritage Coalition held several events to protest the proposed name change, selling red shirts, flags and other items.
Following: Waving ‘Dixie’ flags and holding cardboard boxes, group protests ‘Utah Tech’ renaming
Members of the group showed up at Tuesday’s hearing and took up about half of the available seats, many wearing their red shirts, hats and other items.
This group also bought radio and television commercials to broadcast the defense of the âDixieâ name throughout the state.
“If we win and Dixie stays on behalf of the university, which we hope it will, we will really take the opportunity to make it live up to what we say it is. , namely friendship, “said Commissioner Iverson at the November 2 meeting.
Sean Hemmersmeier covers local government, growth and development in Southwest Utah. Follow on twitter @ seanhemmers34. Our work depends on the subscribers, so if you want more coverage on these issues, you can subscribe here: http://www.thespectrum.com/subscribe.