Dixie name revisited as Dixie State professor calls for name change

ST. GEORGE – In the wake of the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, and subsequent removal of imagery and items related to the Confederacy from public places, retailers and elsewhere, the debate over the name of Dixie State University has been reignited.

Earlier this month, Dannelle Larsen-Rife, a psychology professor at DSU, wrote a guest editorial in The Spectrum that has since rekindled the conversation about the Dixie name and what is means to different people.

A “I am Dixie” banner at DSU. Danelle Larsen-Rife, a professor at the university, says the school needs a new name that isn't associated with the Confederacy, and by association, racism and hate, Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, July 16, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavaz, St. George News
An “I am Dixie” banner at DSU. Dannelle Larsen-Rife, a professor at the university, says the school needs a new name that isn’t associated with the Confederacy and, by association, racism and hate, Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, July 16, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavaz, St. George News

In an interview with St. George News Thursday, Larsen-Rife said she understands the connection people have with the Dixie name as it is applied in Southern Utah and honors the pioneer heritage. However, outside of Utah, she said, the name is often connected with the Confederacy, slavery and racism.

It is not a name that should be applied to a public institution of higher learning, Larsen-Rife said.

“I’m not advocating to change everything in the community,” she said, “just on campus.”

What’s in a name?

Two years ago, Dixie State College had the opportunity to change its name as it approached university status. There was great support for Dixie State University over alternatives like University of St. George, St. George State University and Red Rock University.

The Utah Higher Education Board of Regents voted to approve the school’s new name and university status in January 2013. While all supported the school receiving university status, two of the regents voted against the measure because of the Dixie name.

One of those regents was Rev. France Davis, who was recognized as having marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

While the college was moving towards a university, Davis said he wondered about the name.

“I wonder if we miss an opportunity to move forward on the name …,” he said, “I wonder if the word ‘Dixie’ might be more fittingly changed to a more fresh or new word.”

For many in Southern Utah, the term “Dixie” primarily relates to the Mormon pioneers sent to the area for the purpose of growing cotton. They also had their own connections to the South. While the cotton enterprise was ultimately abandoned, the region has become known as “Utah’s Dixie.”

Long-time residents will also speak to what they call “the Dixie Spirit” when invoking the Dixie name and what it means to them. Hard work, unity, inclusion, community, tradition, heritage and acceptance are often equated with the “Dixie Spirit” by long-term residents.

They see Dixie in a positive light as it relates to local history and heritage and not a harbinger of racism and hate.

“It’s who we are,” former DSU student Danny Shakespeare said in 2012 while the debate of the Dixie name was in full swing. “We’re the Dixie of Southern Utah. It’s so important to us. And to hear them say it’s ‘racist’ and stuff like that, I mean, I never would have thought that it was racist.”

Another such view was presented in a Letter to the Editor from DSU alumnus Chet Norman published Friday. In it, Norman wrote:

The Dixie Spirit is truly what helped inspire the founders of St. George and encouraged them to look forward in hopes of a positive future. This makes up everything about Dixie, St. George, Dixie State University, and the people it encompasses.

However, the view is not shared by everyone. Outside of Southern Utah, Dixie can have darker connotations.

Larsen-Rife compared the Dixie name to the swastika. Before the symbol was used by the Nazis, it was seen and used as a positive symbol by many cultures, she said.

“But since the Nazis adopted it, we can’t use that symbol anymore,” she said. “… Once it adopts a new meaning, you don’t use it, and that’s what’s happened with Dixie State University. It has closely been identified with Confederacy and with the South and white supremacy.”

Confederate themed statue removed from Dixie State College
Confederate-themed statue removed from Dixie State College. St. George, Utah, Dec. 6, 2012 | Photo by Chris Caldwell, St. George News

Loss of credibility? 

While DSU has removed Confederate imagery from the campus in recent years — such as removing the statue of a solider waving the Confederate battle flag and renaming the sports teams from the Dixie Rebels to the Red Storm — Larsen-Rife said the lingering name isn’t doing the university any favors, and that it is actually undermining the credibility of students and faculty.

Larsen-Rife said a DSU faculty member told her that, while attending a conference where he was to conduct a research presentation, people in the audience laughed and snickered when it was announced he was from the university.

“He knew from that point on he lost credibility in the topic and the research presentation wasn’t what it could have been,” she said.

The faculty member’s experience wasn’t an isolated incident either, Larsen-Rife said. Presenters in academic settings have had to explain the Dixie name to their contemporaries “and the explanation is never good enough,” she said. “When you explain it just means ‘south,’ people just don’t buy it. It’s not acceptable.”

The name has also been a roadblock in recruiting faculty to the university, Larsen-Rife said, as other teachers do not want to be associated with the name. She also contends that graduates who have Dixie State University on their resumés may be adversely affected because of it.

“If they want to stay here and get jobs locally, maybe that doesn’t harm them, but I think, on a larger scale, I think it certainly can,” she said.

Lingering imagery

“At this institution, they adopted a Confederate identity in the late 1950s and through now we still have Confederate imagery on campus,” Larsen-Rife said.

A plaque at the Rebels Forever Memory Garden that sits on the DSU campus. Danelle Larsen-Rife, a professor at the university, says it is related to Confederate imagery that shouldn't be on campus, Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, July 16, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavaz, St. George News
A plaque at the Rebels Forever Memory Garden that sits on the DSU campus. Dannelle Larsen-Rife, a professor at the university, says it is related to Confederate imagery that shouldn’t be on campus, Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, July 16, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavaz, St. George News

Although a Confederate-themed statue was removed and the sports teams renamed, examples of lingering Confederate imagery Larsen-Rife pointed out include the names of student housing units like the Shiloh dorms and Rebels Roost and the Rebels Forever Memory Garden on campus.

“We acknowledge that Confederate symbols were once used by the student body,” Steven Caplin, then chairman of DSU’s Board of Trustees, said during the regents meeting in 2012.

Those symbols were introduced in the 1950s as a part of the college’s sports program and no racism was intended by them, he said. Those symbols have since been “retired” from the school.

“These symbols are part of our past, but not our origin,” Caplin said.


Since Larsen-Rife’s guest-editorial was published, the topic of the Dixie name has been covered by local and state media and has also been picked up by the Associated Press, circulating as far as the Daily Mail in England.

Opinion columns and letters to the editor addressing the topic have been published in the area’s newspapers while Facebook pages dedicated to the same have arisen.

A Facebook page dedicated to retaining the Dixie name is “We Are Dixie.” Set up by Norman, who wrote the letter to the editor published by St. George News Friday, the page has gained 3,000 likes as of Saturday morning since its inception Tuesday.

In support of a name change is the “St. George State University” Facebook page. The page, which has been active since July 9, has thus far garnered nearly 90 likes.

DSU students interviewed by St. George News did not support the idea of a name change. One, however, did support the removal of Confederate themes from the campus.

“I think the Dixie name is fine,” DSU student Nathan Moses said. “I think getting rid of things like the Confederate soldier statue and Confederate rebel references in terms of relating to the Confederacy is good … I think it has no place.”

Another DSU student, Russell Sala of Salt Lake City, said, “I, for one, think the name should remain. I have no serious issues with it myself … I find it very unfortunate that we live in a very politically correct society today. So if you are for it, you may be viewed as a bigot. And if you are against it because of today’s society, then you may be viewed as a hero.”

Larsen-Rife said her goal in revisiting the topic of the Dixie name was to get people talking about it again — a goal that has succeeded.

“I think having this discussion is important,” she said.

For its part, the university has no plans to change the name at this time, DSU spokesmen Steve Johnson said in a statement.

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Twitter: @MoriKessler

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  • DRT July 18, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Larsen-Rife talks about loss of credibility. It seems to me like she lost her credibility in coming to work for a school that she believes has a name associated with slavery and racism.
    It seems to me like she is only looking for fodder for her resume, before she moves on. That and her fifteen minutes of fame.

    • mesaman July 18, 2015 at 6:20 pm

      Move over, DRT, and let me sit at your side. What’s in a name? Dixie has survived far more atrocious attacks than that of a newcomer who really hasn’t a clue why we are so protective of a name. This faculty member has been schooled in objective scientific research yet she throws in just the right number of anecdotes to justify her lame opinion. I suggest the tender her resignation. She is not a team member, cannot experience the “Dixie Spirit” with a liberal left leaning attitude structure like she shows. If she hasn’t received tenure I would suggest it be denied. If she has tenure then I suggest she focus on child development issues and leave scientific inquiry to those who understand it. Comparing it to the swastika is as logical as comparing Obama to Adolph Hitler. No, that isn’t right, either. Too many similarities in leadership.

      • native born new mexican July 19, 2015 at 9:33 am

        Mesaman has it right. I also can not understand the willingness of some people to demonize and wipe out an entire region of the USA and all of it’s history as if it had no right to exist. Who gets demonized and wiped out next any thing slightly religious? People who believe in the constitution? people who live in the rural west and live on the land? This sort of behavior is why the founding fathers created a republic and not a democracy. Democracy equals one group of people who can yell the loudest prevailing over all the others or two wolves and a chicken voting on what to eat for dinner. This country was supposed to be a country governed by rules ( the constitution) and representative government not the whims of of one group of people demanding to have their own way about what ever their momentary issue is ( Dixie and anything southern right now.) Do the rights of the minority or the individual get respected also? In a constitutional republic they do. In a mob rule democracy they don’t. We have become a mob rule democracy in which people, their ideas and beliefs and even their history and way of life can be wiped out by the voice of the mob. When people feel they no longer have a voice or even a right to exist ( Dixie, the south, religious belief etc. ) bad things start happening- as in rebellion against the mob. Keep trying to win by being the loudest voice in the hall and watch what finally ends up happening in this country. Some things are not OK and you can only push people so far.

  • Jensen July 18, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    The song ‘Dixie’ was a favorite of President Abraham Lincoln; he had it played at some of his political rallies and at the announcement of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender.


  • Jensen July 18, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    ‘On 10 April 1865, one day after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee, Lincoln addressed a White House crowd:
    I propose now closing up by requesting you play a certain piece of music or a tune. I thought “Dixie” one of the best tunes I ever heard … I had heard that our adversaries over the way had attempted to appropriate it. I insisted yesterday that we had fairly captured it … I presented the question to the Attorney-General, and he gave his opinion that it is our lawful prize … I ask the Band to give us a good turn upon it.[79]

    By that and other actions, Lincoln demonstrated his willingness to be conciliatory to the South and to restore the Union as soon as practicable.’


  • EarlWarren July 18, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    To continue following the SGSU movement check out the new SGSU website:

  • anybody home July 18, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    It’s okay, Mesaman and Jensen and DRT. Keep your Dixie name and let the rest of the world know that you are the yokels your name implies. I’m not at all surprised to hear that someone snickered in a meeting when they heard the name. As for it being popular in southern Utah – you’ve just nailed the problem. Southern Utah’s insular attitude about the rest of the world will continue to hold it back for quite a while to come. Changing the name from Dixie would at least get rid of one of the obstacles to making this university as good as it could be. Just because the locals think it’s great doesn’t mean the rest of the world agrees. And the professor is right – people outside Utah laugh at the name. But of course that doesn’t mean Shinola to the smug “we don’t need no stinking outsiders” southern Utah crowd.

    • mesaman July 18, 2015 at 10:29 pm

      You are one of the most naive and innocuous move ins I have read so far. You present ONE anecdote as evidence that the rest of the world is focused on Dixie. What a maroon. But you said it best; “we don;t need nor stinking outsiders”, what we want are adaptable people who find it possible to assimilate the mores of this culture. Rest assured, Dixie will be around long after the world has discarded your body.

      • munchie July 19, 2015 at 7:59 am

        That’s the old “Dixie Spirit”

      • CaliGirl July 19, 2015 at 9:25 am

        “Long-time residents will also speak to what they call “the Dixie Spirit” when invoking the Dixie name and what it means to them. Hard work, unity, inclusion, community, tradition, heritage and acceptance are often equated with the “Dixie Spirit” by long-term residents.” Inclusion? Acceptance? I call B…S…! Those are not attributes of “long-time residents.” It’s more like “if you don’t like it’ screw you! Move back from wherever you’re from!”

      • anybody home July 19, 2015 at 10:35 am

        Mesaman, Mesaman, Mesaman…if you’re going to attack me personally at least get the spelling and punctuation right. Otherwise, you’re ranting above your pay grade.

        • mesaman July 19, 2015 at 4:34 pm

          I am so pleased you could find more minutia to whine about. A true liberal with a PC agenda. How very democratic of you. Alas you were able to comprehend the gist of my comments, despite the trivia. I stand with my negative comments so live with it and move on or find something else to fester and froth over.

          • anybody home July 19, 2015 at 5:24 pm

            As I said, you are ranting above your pay grade. You’ve made yourself clear in more than one comment section about how you “despise the PC liberals.” I don’t take it personally, since you seem to despise so many. Hard to believe you ever taught at a college, but then in southern Utah, anything’s possible.

          • anybody home July 19, 2015 at 5:27 pm

            Hard to believe you ever taught at a college (if what you claim is true), but in southern Utah, anything is possible. I don’t take your rantings personally because you’ve made it clear how many of us you despise, Mess of a man.

          • mesaman July 19, 2015 at 10:06 pm

            Nobody home, attacking you is much like smacking a baby in its crib. There’s no satisfaction in it, Now, go take your food stamps and shove them, you know where. At least I retired from a job. You’ve probably heard of the word “job”, it entails something you may not have experienced, its called “work”. I do hope you aren’t homeless, though. That would put me on a guilt trip.

          • anybody home July 20, 2015 at 1:03 pm

            Sorry to disappoint, MeanMesaMan…I’m not one of your food-stamp enemies. I’ve taught at three universities, always paid my own way. Your analogy of smacking a baby in a crib is pretty creepy.

          • mesaman July 20, 2015 at 10:53 pm

            So, No body, couldn’t hold on to a job long enough to get tenure? And I find you creepy, so what?

          • 42214 July 21, 2015 at 3:23 pm

            What did you teach Mesa, auto shop? If you’re living on a DSU pension I understand now why you’re so bitter and ill-tempered.

  • SteveSGU July 19, 2015 at 12:16 am

    Once again, this is not about a university’s name. The university and many other institutions were named after an area, Utah’s Dixie. Dixie comes from an area of the South with many positive attributes. You don’t rename an area like Virginia or South Carolina or South Africa or Russia because of one sad aspect of its history.

    If you want to make a real difference, drop the silly fight against a perfectly wonderful name (which is only associated with negative things by people who are not truly educated). Instead, work to inculcate love and brotherhood among all groups in our larger American society.

  • Uncle Lenny July 19, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Go ahead, change one name, then another, ad infinitum. See where you stop.
    Why not start at the top, and change the White House to. Something PC,and work your way down, whistling Dixie. Get real.

    • mesaman July 19, 2015 at 11:58 am

      Well written, Uncle. It’s too bad the liberal PC lovers can’t change history just by renaming something that irritates or agitates them into some kind of hissy fit. History was a reality experience for those who were present at that time and changing a name or removing a flag will not make history different, only skewed by the unnatural thinking of those who find whining an appropriate way of expressing PC. Aw yes, PC, the marijuana of the liberal.

  • Allie July 19, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Changing a name is not going to change some peoples minds.

  • radioviking July 19, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    Professor Dannelle Larsen-Rife’s example of how symbols change meaning in context and historical usage using the example of the swastika being used as a religious symbol by Buddhists, Native American tribes, and other ancient cultures/traditions, etc. BUT the symbol isn’t used since Nazis adopted it.
    The name Dixie does not have a loving nostalgia for people moving into the area. From the dictionary, Definition of “DIXIE”:
    “the states of the SE United States & especially those which constituted the Confederacy.” hence, in its modern context, the name is closely associated to the southern states, the Civil War, slavery and the negative connotations of the word despite what local Mormons expect others to take it.

    A person can start using profanity/swear words and say they’re putting a new and positive meaning to them, but everyone else who has heard the vulgar/profanity will look at that person like the idiot they are. The local culture is asking the rest of the world to see the word Dixie in a totally different connotation from which it has come to mean from American history. Be objective enough to see how silly that is.

    • SteveSGU July 19, 2015 at 1:56 pm

      Dixie connotes something warm and hospitable from American history. The region’s name has no connection to slavery or racism. Be objective enough to realize that.


      Maybe we should also ban the name “Jersey” everywhere. You know, slavery was legal in New Jersey for at least 150 years! How shameful. Let’s boycott NJ products (not).

    • Simone July 19, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      Heres’s a few definitions of Dixie for those of you that care to educate yourselves.

      Also called Dixieland, Dixie Land. the southern states of the United States, especially those that were formerly part of the Confederacy.
      (italics) any of several songs with this name, especially the minstrel song (1859) by D. D. Emmett, popular as a Confederate war song.

      From Merriam-Webster.com
      Definition of DIXIE
      the states of the SE United States & especially those which constituted the Confederacy

      From britannica.com:
      “Dixie, the Southern U.S. states, especially those that belonged to the Confederate States of America (1860–65). The name came from the title of a song composed in 1859 by Daniel Decatur Emmett; this tune was popular as a marching song of the Confederate Army, and was often considered the Confederate anthem”.

      Hmm you know it’s funny, I didn’t see one reference on either of those pages to Mormons using the name using the name Dixie Hard work, unity, inclusion, community, tradition, heritage and acceptance” are often equated with the “Dixie Spirit” by long-term residents. Like Caligirl above, I call B.S. Here’s why. The yearbook was called “The Confederate”. “Page after page from The Confederate yearbook show students in black face, parade floats depicting slaves and a fixation with the confederate flag”. “The confederate identity, the way it was portrayed 30, 40, 50 years ago are things that we’re going to have to acknowledge”. Quotes taken from a KSL newscast

      • Simone July 19, 2015 at 2:26 pm

        Fore give me I meant to say that the *college* yearbook was called “The Confederate”.

      • anybody home July 19, 2015 at 3:37 pm

        Simone – thanks for posting this…I’ve just read the KSL newscast story and learned a few things that help me understand this current debate and the horrible comments from those who want to keep the name. To know that this school was doing blackface events, slave auctions and other demeaning practices in the 1960s and 1970s is bad enough, but to know they continued into the 1990s is appalling.
        Nobody can say with a straight face now that this name didn’t mean just what the rest of us have been saying it means in southern Utah – racism. And let’s be clear about this – church- and civic-sanctioned racism. Let me say that again – CHURCH- AND CIVIC-SANCTIONED RACISM.
        No wonder southern Utah is what it is.
        Those of us who think the name should go know that this is not about being politically correct. It’s about rooting out an ugly cancer that continues to grow in southern Utah – racism.

        • AnnieMated July 19, 2015 at 10:18 pm

          I completely agree ANYBODY HOME, Racism and racist ideologies should be a thing of past. That said, Dixie is just a name. Names have different meanings to different people in different cultures. A name is nothing. We could change Dixie State University’s name to George Washington University, Rolling Stone State College or Crackerjack State College and it would do very little to alleviate the bigger issue here. Racism. If we want to rid the world of racism then I believe that we need to stop teaching our children to be racists and call out racism when we see it in public.

      • native born new mexican July 19, 2015 at 6:18 pm

        So what if something reminds someone of the southern USA and their history. Are you saying they and their history don’t even have a right to exist?? What part of who you are or where you come from can I wipe out and claim has no right to ever be spoken or sung or written about again? Who do you think you are to make those kinds of judgments about other people? I wrote above about mob rule and you are leading the mob. I was studying the history of Jewish people during the time of the Spanish inquisition. The Spanish leaders believed they had every right to just wipe any memory of the Jews from Spain and form the face of the earth. They tried darn hard to do it. They believed just like you Simone that the Jews (southerners) had it coming and they, the Spanish (Simone) were the only correct ones. Your behavior and words carry echos of that very bad time. Only you and your views can be allowed to exist – Welcome to 16th century Spain you would fit right in.

        • Simone July 19, 2015 at 8:55 pm

          First of all stop sticking words in my mouth. I don’t think anyone “has it coming” nor do I believe that I am the only correct one and I ESPECIALLY resent your statement that only me and those agree with me are allowed to exist. I’ve never even implied that. In fact, Ive told you in other posts that I would defend your right to express yourself and your opinion and I mean it. Your statement about what I believe is just plain wrong sir.

          ” Are you saying they and their history don’t even have a right to exist”?? Of course I’m not saying that. Just because it once existed does not mean that we have to continue celebrating it. You want to see the confederate flag? Good. I’m sure you can buy on on Amazon, see one in a museum or watch Dukes of Hazard reruns. If you really want to, you can hang ten million confederate flags in front of your house for all eternity, I don’t care. Heck, I’ll be the first to defend your right to put that disgusting flag on your person or your property. Do you know why? You bought the house, you pay for the house and you and only you are responsible for it. The university however is a public institution which means its paid for by everyone. Therefore everyone has a voice in where they want it to go in the present and future, including me and you and people we may disagree with. You say that a minority has the loudest voice? Maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t. That said, there’s only two reasons the minority would have as much power as you think they do.
          1.) The majority isn’t speaking or;
          2.) The people you think are the minority aren’t.
          Just sayin’.

        • anybody home July 20, 2015 at 11:14 am

          This is an ugly comparison Mr or Ms New Mexico native and not at all what Simone was saying. You have a way of twisting things and, as Simone notes, putting words in people’s mouths. Shame on you.

          • 42214 July 20, 2015 at 12:13 pm

            WOE IS ME strikes again

  • St. G July 19, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    Met my wife at Dixie College decades ago, and am proud to have my kids earn an associate here. However, I am opposed to them earning a Bachelor’s (or higher) at Dixie—entirely because of the name. This has nothing to do with the issue of race; the name just lacks any semblance of professional weight.

    With due respect, until the name changes, Dixie will not be taken seriously.

  • fun bag July 19, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    Can we please change the name to ‘Adolf Hitler University’…?

    • fun bag July 19, 2015 at 6:04 pm

      The mormon founder prob have more in common with nazis than anything…

      • mesaman July 19, 2015 at 10:07 pm

        Nice, scummy. Two posts already. You’re well on your way to your daily average.

  • 42214 July 19, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    I’ve got no dog in the.fight and truly don’t care but I bet the name is changed in the next 18 months. Political correctness is the rule of the day.

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