Dixie State University should be renamed, despite no Civil War connection, board says

Utah’s Board of Higher Education unanimously voted Wednesday to ask legislators to rename a 110-year-old university in the southwestern part of the state because its name has “racist” implications.

Dixie State University, which opened in 1911 as the St. George Stake Academy, would become Utah Tech University if the state legislature enacts a name change.

“Utah Tech University highlights the institution’s academic mission to prepare students for the workforce by combining a rich liberal arts education with active learning experiences,” the school said in a statement after the vote.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, signed legislation approved earlier this year to begin the name-change process, including a $500,000 appropriation to the school.

Dixie State derived its current name from the region in which it’s located.

St. George is part of an area long known as “Utah’s Dixie,” so named when Mormon pioneers migrated to the area to grow cotton and other crops found in the southern U.S. states which later seceded during the Civil War.

A special legislative session is slated for Nov. 9, and opponents of the switch are lobbying to reject the move.

The Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition said on its website the proposed “Utah Tech” name “has become a laughing matter across the state,” and doesn’t include “the actual Geographic Region,” as they claim the legislature mandated.

The group declared Utah Tech “is bland, generic and a major step backwards for our university and our community!”

In a statement, Harris H. Simmons, Utah Board of Higher Education chairman, said “the Dixie State University Board of Trustees worked extensively with education stakeholders and the public to develop a strong name that will lead the university into the future both locally and nationally.”

In 2020, the school’s trustees commissioned an impact study that found problems with the “Dixie” name.

“The term ‘Dixie’ not only carries negative connotations of southern slavery for some, but from a branding, marketing, and recruiting perspective, many who are unfamiliar with the institution incorrectly assume it is located somewhere in the southern states. Confusion around the school’s location and identity adds a problematic element that may also inhibit growth and reputational aspirations,” a report from consulting firm Cicero Group stated.

The report added, “most in Utah think the name should be unchanged, but outside of Utah and among various populations, there is a stronger inclination to change the name.”

There are also four other technical colleges in the state, including Dixie Technical College in St. George, whose name apparently is not under threat. “At this time, only Dixie State University is engaged in the name change process,“ said Trisha Dugovic, communications director for the Utah System of Higher Education.

Calls and emails seeking comment from Utah Republican legislators Sen. Don L. Ipson, who represents the district where Dixie State is located, and Rep. Kirby Miles, who sponsored the 2021 bill advancing the name change, were not immediately returned.

The school, which offers dozens of undergraduate programs and four masters’ degree programs, reported a fall 2021 student population of 12,266 individuals, up nearly 2% over the 2020 headcount.

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