ST. GEORGE – In what was originally meant to be a closed focus group with a handful of participants, over 90 people showed up at Dixie State College of Utah to tell representatives of Sorenson Advertising what the name “Dixie” meant to them. This, as the college considers a name change suitable for its anticipated university status.
Wednesday night a message was relayed over social media that Dixie State’s president Stephen Nadauld wanted to speak with members of the community who supported the Dixie name. The same message was repeated over local radio Thursday morning.
Eric Sorenson, of Sorenson Advertising, the agency conducting the study surrounding college name, said the purpose the meeting was to gauge how older members of the community felt about “Dixie.”
People expecting to hear from Nadauld, who is currently out of town, were disappointed. A representative of Sorenson Advertising said the nature of the meeting had become skewed.
“We wanted to make sure every voice was heard,” Sorenson said. Responses to the Dixie name had been substantial, he said, and now an opportunity to speak their minds was being offered to members of the community who may not have had access to Sorenson’s online survey.
Due to the nature of the meeting, members of the media were asked not to photograph or record the proceedings, though they were allowed to take notes on comments made.
In the following videocast, St. George News reporter Mori Kessler interviewed attendees before and after the meeting. Among them was Mayor Dan McArthur of the City of St. George.
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Video by Sarafina Amodt, St. George News
A Dixie State alumnus, McArthur said, “I’m a rebel at heart.”
“I’m tired of people coming from outside the area and bringing their prejudice and hates and dislikes and trying to throw it on us,” he said, ”because that’s never been what Dixie’s all about.”
If people have a problem with the Dixie name, he said, it is a problem they brought with them from elsewhere.
In the forum, the Mayor was even more pointed: Should “Dixie” be removed from the name of the college as it becomes a university, he said the relationship between the City of St. George and the institution could deteriorate. In the accompanying videocast interview, he said that if it doesn’t have the name Dixie, “you’ll find us going down to diverging paths, not converging.”
“Dixie is a place we’re all proud of,” he said.
Brody Mikesell, DSC student body president, said he planned to wait and see the results on the data collected by Sorenson Advertising before making a final call on the matter himself. However, he said he would represent the interests of DSC students, though he understands what Dixie means to the community.
“(Dixie) means something dear to them,” Mikesell said of Dixie supporters. “On the opposite side, there are a lot of students that see it as a hindrance for themselves, for the institution and they see a lot of the negative connotations, the negative semblances …”
Mikesell participated in a separate focus group held earlier that afternoon. He did not go to the second meeting attended by McArthur and others.
Danny Shakespeare, a DSC alumnus, said he never thought of Dixie as a racist term. Instead, he said he saw the name as representing the heritage of the area. “It’s just who we are,” he said. “We’re the Dixie of Utah.”
A concept that was brought up multiple times during the meeting was the “Dixie spirit” and what it meant.
“The Dixie spirit is what’s in our hearts,” said Dixie alumnus Ernie Doose. “The thing about the Dixie spirit is its emphasis on the individual. We are all one entity, but there’s an individuality of the Dixie spirit … It isn’t something you can just pull out of the air.”
Doose said the Dixie spirit was embodied by the late Roene DiFiore. DiFiore, whose name was also mentioned by McArthur, Doose and others, was a faculty member at the college who oversaw the Program Bureau, a show choir from which DSC’s current Raging Red chorus descended. She is the author of “Are you from Dixie?” – a song McArthur often sings at public events.
Ross Taylor, a retired DSC faculty member, said Dixie is a great name for a great community. “We are Utah’s Dixie,” he said. “It represents the heart of the people.”
Taylor has been an educator in Southern Utah for 51 years. He originally taught at Winward High School, then at Dixie High School after it split off from the college. He also served as the high school’s principal for a time. He retired last year, ending a period at the college as a math teacher.
“I have a deep feeling in my heart for the name Dixie,” he said.
Sorensen said comments from the meeting will be only one of many factors addressed by his company as it finalizes name recommendations for the college trustees to consider. He said Sorenson Advertising would present its findings and name recommendations to the public on Jan. 9, 2013, at the Cox Auditorium on the DSC campus.
The trustees are slated to vote on a name change on Jan. 18.
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- Letter to the Editor: Minority Coalition stance on college name change
- ON Kilter: Dixie State; there’s more at stake than a name
- Perspectives: Dixie State College, resisting the tyranny of the minority
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- ON Kilter: When a sculptor shapes public perception, who speaks for whom?
- Letter to the Editor: Restore Dixie; bring back the Rebel and the Confederate statue
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