OPINION — This opinion letter is submitted in response to this resurgence aimed at replacing “Dixie” from Dixie State University.
Visitors to Lehman Cave in Great Basin National Park in Nevada might just encounter an object lesson on the dangers of altering history. A park ranger was explaining on one such cave tour how wax candles were utilized for light in the 1920s when guests were left to roam unsupervised all day underground. Once boredom set in, it wasn’t uncommon for some to carve initials in the ceiling with remaining candle ash. This left thick black markings resulting in cave graffiti. One day, park rangers decided to deal with the unsightly problem. First, graffiti removal was attempted which left behind ugly blotches. Next, whitewashing which compounded original intent causing even further damage.
The rangers message was clear: Whitewashing history just means you’re going to repeat it.
One should always be careful with adopting any particular version of history. Once ill-intent is broadly applied, where is the line drawn? Renaming all military forts named after Southern generals? Banning sports teams with Native American names? After the annihilation of Southern statues (Confederate or otherwise), calls are already being made for toppling both Jefferson and Washington Monuments on the Mall. As for any flag — symbols are hijacked all the time. Just because someone doesn’t agree with your symbolic interpretation doesn’t justify historical whitewashing.
Confederate flags have been flown in East Germany during the fall of the Berlin Wall. East Germans saw it as a symbol of defiance to centralization. It was flown in Tiananmen Square in 1989 during student protests against authoritarian Chinese regimes. It was even flown in Africa for Christian liberation forces.
Perhaps, it was in this vein of rebellious spirit which Southern Utah pioneers adopted “Dixie” as their namesake. “Rebel” was and still is synonymous with standing out and not conforming; an appropriate title for an institution of higher learning. Utah’s “Dixie” was intended to say Southern hospitality awaits newcomers and returning guests alike, regardless of race or creed.
For the record, I viewed Dixie College’s removal of “Rebel” as misguided and whose current rebranding as something far worse. Considering today’s resurgence of groups calling for ending both unintended or perceived vestiges of Antebellum South which could be deemed racist, outcries demanding retirement of Confederate flag and mascot were inevitable; especially when headed by academia where Southern tradition is constantly vilified.
Looking back, the overriding issue largely ignored was how DSU suppressed real campus debate on the merits of removing the Rebel name. The only acceptable student narrative echoed by college subordinates was that a certain piece of cloth is deemed racist. End of story.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. upheld peaceful means — ‘content of character’ — in response to cries of racism and violence. He set a precedent for individuals to live up to. Societies should encourage public discourse where a variety of perspectives can be weighed and vetted by the populace. This critical thinking component was absent throughout the college rebranding process which stifled any hope of real germination. Educational institutions espousing differing viewpoints for young minds’ consideration have all but ceased — a tradition once held as paramount in promoting freethinkers, as well as preventing groupthink.
In the end, whether or not the “Dixie” name would remain moving forward was “voted” on by community members. Keeping “Rebel” was off the table. How historical revisionists became the community’s self-appointed experts on Southern history, culture and tradition is beyond me.
The Rebel name still exists down the road at the Las Vegas university; as does the meaning — deep inside the hearts of liberty-lovers with Southern Utah ties. Outside of higher education circles, there’s nothing racist about being called a Dixie Rebel.
Submitted by RYAN SCHUDDE, St. George, Dixie Alumni.
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