ST. GEORGE — In response to the proposed name change of Dixie State University to “Utah Polytechnic State University,” hundreds of Southern Utah natives, Dixie State students and other stakeholders gathered on the university campus in protest Wednesday evening.
The crowd assembled on a lawn near a monument to the area’s founders to participate in the protest, which was led by Quinton Read, a Dixie State student athlete who said he was inspired to organize the event when he realized that the opinions of several groups were being ignored.
“We want the administration to listen to what the people say: listen to the students and the community,” Read said. “We just feel like people haven’t been heard. There’s some sort of disconnect happening here.”
The university announced on June 14 that “Utah Polytechnic State University” was approved 11-3 by a name recommendation committee. The proposed name is awaiting approval or denial by the Dixie State University Board of Trustees.
Having met with members of the name recommendation committee earlier on Wednesday, Read assured the protestors that their efforts were not going unnoticed and said that he believes the university is already changing its stance and favoring something closer to “Utah Tech.”
“There are two camps: there’s the ‘keep the name’ camp, but then there is a very large portion of people that are against this name that they’ve proposed and are okay with changing the name,” Read told St. George News. “I personally like Dixie State, but I think the reason we didn’t see a lot of representation from the second group today is that they’re mostly students and the students aren’t here.”
According to Dixie State representatives, the university has sought student input at every step of the process.
“Of the 14,000-plus survey participants, 23% were students and 35% were former students,” Stacy Schmidt, assistant director of public relations, said. “Of the 50-plus focus group discussions, a number of student groups were included such as student athletes, student association members, alumni association members and student groups at large.”
In addition, Schmidt said the name process committee had two student representatives.
Some students criticized the surveys, saying that they felt shoehorned into choosing a variation of “Utah” and “Tech” while ignoring other descriptors like “desert,” “deseret” or “Zion.”
“I think we should change it, but I don’t think we should change it to UPSU,” said Catherine West, a Dixie State student. “I think the surveys could have been executed a bit better. In one part of the survey you had to choose specifically out of Utah Tech names. I think UMAC (University Messaging and Communication) needs to take a step back and really evaluate what the student body wants, maybe select a new name and try again.”
Speakers at Wednesday’s protest included Read and Julia Marble, enrolled students; Mitch Wilkinson, a vocal alumnus; Janet Campbell, a long-time teacher; Jessica and Addison Hildebrandt, local business owners; Haley Caplin, a parent and alumna; and Tim Anderson, an attorney who’s worked with higher-ed institutions for many years.
Each of the speakers cited reasons for their opposition, addressing the history of “Dixie” as the region and the school’s identifier and urging protestors to express their feelings by emailing the board of trustees.
Thick clouds threatening rain dispersed just as the demonstration was beginning, allowing attendees to enjoy a cooler-than-usual evening. Participants arrived as individuals, with family or in groups of friends, with many sporting red Dixie T-shirts and waving red Dixie flags.
“I feel like the turnout was pretty good: we had a lot of community members,” Read said. “It wasn’t as many as would have come if the students were in town. That’s been a big factor in this whole name change thing: they’ve tried to do it while the students are gone.”
Opponents to the entire name change process were represented by people of all ages and backgrounds, with the majority of “Dixie” supporters being long-time residents and alumni of decades past.
Lee and Carol Bunnell went to the protest to advocate against a name change of any kind, asking why anybody would want to change a name that’s “been around for a hundred years.”
“I taught here for 33 years,” Lee Bunnell said. “I was the head football coach for nine years. I think the newcomers are the ones that are opposed to it, and I think the students who said they had trouble getting a job because of the name were probably not qualified in the first place. I just don’t think that’s a legitimate reason.”
Others, including Jillene Kirkland, never attended Dixie State University. Nonetheless, she said that “Dixie” means something unique to Southern Utahns and it holds a special place in her heart.
“It’s a heritage thing for me,” Kirkland said. “I feel like the pioneers who came here worked so hard for their very existence. I just feel like Dixie is a beautiful name to us, and it has nothing to do with racism. We hope that they keep the name.”
The few individuals in attendance who supported a change of name but opposed “Utah Polytechnic State University” were overwhelmingly young and members of the student body.
Gabriel Ennis and Claire Schermerhorn attended the protest dressed in homage to “UPS-U,” spoofing on the recommendation’s initials and their similarity to the package delivery service UPS. In addition to the pair’s antics, many protestors arrived carrying cardboard boxes to poke fun at the proposed name’s initials.
“I really don’t like the name Utah Polytechnic State University,” Ennis said. “It’s mouthy, it’s wordy and I don’t think it represents the university as a whole.”
Both Ennis and Schermerhorn agreed that the students’ input was largely ignored, and Schermerhorn in particular felt that other names were more popular and more suitable as a replacement.
“I’m actually quite okay with the change, but I would have much preferred Deseret State University,” Schermerhorn said. “I think the acronym and keeping the ‘D’ on the mountain would be important to me.”
The protest was organized with significant assistance from Zion Live Events, with the company providing sound systems and helping plan the ceremony. Read served as the event’s emcee, delivering the opening message and introducing the speakers.
As the meeting was drawing to a close, retired St. George mayor Daniel McArthur addressed the gathered crowd and led the group in a region-specific version of the song, “Are You From Dixie.”
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