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Utah Board of Higher Education votes unanimously to change Dixie State University’s name


Utah Board of Higher Education votes unanimously to change Dixie State University’s name

Elle Cabrera

| St. George Spectrum & Daily News

The Utah Board of Higher Education voted unanimously on Wednesday to recommend Dixie State University’s name change to Utah Tech, forwarding the proposal to the state Legislature for a final decision.

In approving the measure, which has been controversial with some locals who want to keep the “Dixie” name intact, the board also recommended the creation of a “heritage committee” that could find ways to preserve the school’s earlier heritage without keeping the “Dixie” moniker.

“I feel that the work of this committee has been a tremendous success for the state of Utah,” NRC Chair Julie Beck said. Beck, who sits on the DSU board of trustees, said she has found the process to be challenging but overall will be best for the university’s future.

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The Legislature, which convenes for its annual regular session in January, could decide to change the name or not. The state board of education and the school’s board of trustees also voted to recommend a name change last year, but lawmakers declined to do so, instead sending the matter back to the school and tasking DSU with forming committees to study the name and to consider ways to celebrate the local heritage if a change was made.

In June, DSU leaders recommended changing the school name to Utah Tech, building on the recommendations of a committee formed to study the issue, but not without angering many local residents.

The decision was made in front of a full-capacity crowd, including many people wearing red shirts calling for the school to keep the “Dixie” word in the name. Some meeting-goers were re-directed to another room on campus that lived streamed the meeting.

Changing the “Dixie” name

Dixie State’s name has been a matter of contention for years, having survived as the school moved away from its Old South-styled imagery. In the past 20 years, the school moved away from its former mascot, a “Rebel” fashioned after a Confederate soldier, and removed many of the Confederate-themed decorations and imagery that was used in the past, while condemning past practices such as mock slave auctions that were held as late as the 1990s.

DSU Board of Trustees recommends Utah Tech University
The DSU Board of Trustees recommended changing the name of Dixie State to Utah Tech University in a meeting on Tuesday, June 29, 2021.
Chris Caldwell, St. George Spectrum & Daily News

But the “Dixie” name remained, with backers arguing the term had little association with the South and was instead a nod to the area’s pioneer-era settlers, groups of members of The Church of Latter-day Saints who were sent to the area by Brigham Young to build a community in the state’s desert Southwest.

Both sides are likely to lobby heavily with lawmakers, given the Legislature’s past hesitance to pass a name change.

In March, lawmakers passed House Bill 278S01, which declined to change the name immediately and instead tasked the school with creating a committee that would be able to find a name for the university that “reflects the institution’s mission and significance to the surrounding region and state and enables the institution to compete and be recognized nationally.”

The trustees had already voted to change the name, voting unanimously in December 2020 to recommend changing the name.

That proposal made it past the state board of higher education and then the Utah House of Representatives before stalling in the state Senate, where members passed a measure that suggested a name change would be allowed, but only after a more intensive effort to include local constituencies in the discussion about what the new name should be.

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