OPINION – On the world stage, the term Dixie does not generate the affection afforded it in Southern Utah.
It raises the specter of the antebellum South, a real time in the nation’s history that resulted in the Civil War.
During that time, Southern Utah was settled and, because of the warmer climate, it was believed that it would be the perfect place to raise cotton. Things were getting tense in the South and the pioneers who settled here were in need of cotton.
An initial crop was harvested and plans were made to go into larger-scale production. Thirty-eight families, all from the Old South, were assigned to the task, according to local historian Harold P. Cahoon (“Utah’s Dixie Birthplace). “The song ‘Dixie’ was also popular during this time, which helped the Southerners to reminisce about their homeland,” he wrote.
So, there was a connection. No, there was no slavery and the pioneers hardly lived the plantation lifestyle, but that’s how the area came to be named. And, subsequently, “Dixie” became an integral part of Southern Utah despite the connotations the word took on over the years.
It became relevant, of course, when Dixie College made steps to move up from community college status to a four-year institution and, now, a university.
The point of a learning institution is to raise consciousness in the classroom and in the community. The student population at Dixie State has been increasing in diversity and depth and the school is looking at bigger and better days.
That means more students, more prestige.
Therein lies the rub.
Is Dixie a becoming name for a university?
If they had to change the mascot, a more fitting one would be Pioneers, which most accurately reflects the Southern Utah heritage and should be offensive to none. There is a strong cultural and religious connection to Pioneers that is readily identifiable and easy to explain.
Now, there is a heated controversy over the school name, so much so that last week the school removed a statue depicting two Confederate soldiers, a horse and the Stars and Bars from the campus.
I’m told that it is an appeasement of sorts so the school can retain “Dixie” in its name, according to scuttlebutt from one student I know.
Quite frankly, I would rather see the school go back to the Rebel mascot than continue with the Dixie moniker and that horrid Red Storm appellation.
Rebels? There are tons of them, maybe not as prevalent here because, well, rebels aren’t particularly welcomed here. But, in general, the term doesn’t necessarily focus on the members of the CSA troops that took up arms against the North during the Civil War. And, honestly, rebels are a good thing. They are unconventional, independent, valiant, if you will. The Founding Fathers of this nation were rebels. Those who stood up for social justice in the ‘60s were rebels. Those who oppose tyranny and the status quo are also rebels.
But, what should we name the forthcoming university?
Beats me. Southern Utah University is already taken. University of Utah, St. George sounds good to me, but could be misleading. Utah State University, St. George? Equally misleading. St. George University sounds like a catholic school. Deseret University is a thought. It has possibilities and comes with a built-in mascot — the honeybee. There are two drawbacks, however. A version of this was used before. The University of Utah, when it was founded in 1850, was known as the University of Deseret. And, of course, there’s the connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and, well, there’s this little thing called separation of church and state since the university will be taxpayer funded.
It doesn’t leave many alternatives other than University of Southern Utah, St. George.
It’s not fancy, not splashy, but isn’t it all supposed to be about education and the university experience? If we stumble at all in pursuit of university status we lose an important opportunity for economic and cultural growth.
A university brings much more to a community than a college. It brings jobs, it brings the kind of growth that Southern Utah desperately needs — growth of diversity. It brings stature, it brings credibility.
What is Southern Utah really known for anyway?
There’s Zion National Park, Snow Canyon State Park, but culturally? Outside of the state lines, Utah is thought of as a place where polygamy is rampant and the drinking laws are silly.
Businesses looking to relocate here at this time are not doing so because of all the beauty. They come here because they can purchase property at a much more reasonable price, can con the city fathers into fat relocation incentive packages that can range from tax benefits to utility cuts if they promise to stay here five years.
They come here because they can hire their labor force cheaply, and not have to compete with California wages.
Towns with universities can offer a much smarter workforce, can offer partnering opportunities in specialty practices, and an environment that challenges the mind rather than stifling it.
Dixie? It is one of those words that has grown in a bad direction. A friend of mine posted on Facebook recently: “My mom is named Dixie. Does that make her a racist?”
Of course not, but she is also not an institute of higher education that is in vigorous competition with other schools across the nation. She is a mom and she did a great job raising her son, a person I am particularly proud to call my friend.
We cannot, as a community, dig our heels in on an issue that, quite frankly, is already causing bad press for the school in the national media.
Be a real rebel and embrace change, even if it is difficult.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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