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The “Dixie” Name Game at DSU

The “Dixie” Name Game at DSU
May 25
05:25 2021

The “Dixie” Name Game

By John Christian Hopkins

“What is in a name?” William Shakespeare once wondered. “That which we call a rose by any other, name would smell as sweet.”

Ah, but therein lies the rub.

Some words may carry a stigma with them. And, Shakespeare never had to grapple with the word “dixie.”

Dixie State University, in St, George, Utah, is grappling with that very word as it ponders a name change.

Dixie State University President Richard “Biff” Williams urged a swift conclusion to an ongoing process to consider a name change.

Meeting with the Utah Board of Higher Education on May 21, Williams, urged the board and the Utah Legislature to act quickly once the university’s board of trustees delivers its recommendations on the university’s name.

“There’s a lot of things happening in our city that shouldn’t be happening. I dealt with a suicide watch because somebody was targeted from one of these Facebook groups and it’s just really ugly,” Williams said.

Founded in 1911, DSU has undergone a half dozen name changes over the years. Ironically, all but the original name – St. George Stake Academy – included Dixie.

University spokesperson Jyl Hall said in a statement that most community members engaged in the name change process have participated in cordial and helpful discussions, survey participation.

“However, there have been select community members who have made targeted personal attacks publicly on students, employees, administration, trustees and businesses,” the statement said. “This uncivil treatment has impacted the health and well-being of various members of our campus community and proven disruptive not only to the name recommendation process, but also to the role the university plays in the community.”

Williams said the 19-member name recommendation committee appointed by the university’s trustees “is working really hard on this issue.

But it won’t be easy. An online survey found that nearly 47-prevent of respondents want to keep the name as is.

DSU had 12,043 students during the 2020-2021 school year, with 23-percent being minorities. A vast majority – 82-percent – are Utah residents.

Nationally, Dixie has become increasingly problematic as the nation has begun to reckon with racial inequality.

“Unfortunately, the definition of Dixie carries a different connotation elsewhere in the world than it does in that small region,” State Rep. Steve Waldrip said.

But not everyone is on board with a name change

If someone doesn’t like the name Dixie, they don’t have to enroll there, State Rep. Rex Shipp said.

For State Rep. Adam Robertson the proposed change smacks of “cancel culture” and “political correctness.”

Williams said many students have told him that the name is problematic when seeking to enroll in graduate schools or find employment.

A study, commissioned by DSU administrators, found the university’s name has become “increasingly problematic for our students and alumni” due to racial connotations, and it has hindered the university’s ability to recruit students, faculty and staff.

Opponents argue that changing the university’s name would be tantamount to cancel culture and that, historically, the area is known as Dixie because pioneers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to the area to grow crops that were cultivated in the South, such as cotton.

Discussions about the university’s name have been going on for decades but intensified after protests across the country following George Floyd’s murder last summer while in police custody in Minneapolis, spurring a national conversation about racial injustice.

According to aggregate results of the survey, commissioned by the university, Dixie State emerged as the most commonly selected name followed by St. George University, Deseret State University, Red Rock University, the Utah Institute of Technology and Utah’s Dixie University.

The names of public colleges and universities are established in state statute, which means only the Utah Legislature has the authority to name them. Under HB278, higher education officials are expected to deliver a recommendation to legislative leaders later this year.

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