ST. GEORGE — Wearing red shirts emblazoned with “Join the Resistance,” “Name it St. George” and “Keep it Local,” a group of Dixie State University students on Wednesday led “Red Out,” a demonstration calling for a new name for the university.
Demonstrators engaged students walking across campus to talk about the name change process and to raise awareness for their proposed alternative: St. George State University.
Supporters for the alternate name wore red to demonstrate their approval, with university faculty and staff joining students and even politicians at the state and local level in the symbolic action.
As a born and raised St. George native currently enrolled in the business management program, Kaitlyn Larsen lent her voice and creative talents to promoting St. George State University. She said she grew up with love for the name Dixie, but recent experiences have changed her perspective on the name.
“After I learned more about the reasons it was changing, I could see why and I learned to respect that it needed to change,” Larsen said. “I was shocked to find out that they had picked Utah Tech University. A lot of us students are really upset because they asked us to vote and then kind of ignored what the community wanted.”
In response, Larsen teamed up with Alexis Ence, an English instructor, and several like-minded students to begin campaigning for the name St. George University. As one of the early favorites among students and alumni surveyed, St. George University represents a more regionally-specific and historically relevant name, Larsen said.
The group later added “State” to their proposal to avoid confusion with private religious institutions and to earn the approval of legislators, according to a Change.org petition organized by Ence. As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition had garnered over 1,400 signatures.
“I keep hearing people say, ‘It’s just a name.’ But I feel like if you’re from here or you know the people here, you know it’s a lot more than just a name,” Ence said. “The name of the university has always been tied to the community. It was originally named St. George Stake Academy, so we want to get back to our roots and continue the tradition that they stated.”
St. George News asked students on campus on Wednesday about their feelings toward the name change process and their preference for the university’s name.
Rin Nakamichi, a first-semester student from Japan, said he was just beginning to learn about name controversy and the competing proposals. He said Dixie State’s unique name actually intrigued him, and he decided to enroll based on the school’s reputation for safety and academic success.
“At this moment I really like the name Dixie,” Nakamichi said. “I think it’s really unique, but I also think the name St. George State University might be a good one as well. It’s in St. George, so it’s not referring to the whole state of Utah. I think it’s a good name, but I still think Dixie ranks first in my opinion.”
Jake Butterfield, a St. George resident of eight years and freshman at DSU, said he feels the focus on technology in the new name isn’t particularly helpful to students like him in non-tech majors.
“I feel like they ask students what they think and what they would prefer, but in the end I don’t think we have much say in it,” Butterfield said. “If there had to be a change, I’d lean towards St. George State. If there didn’t need to be a change, I’d probably stick with there being no change.”
Nicholas Fajardo was one of the student-organizers for the “Name it St. George” demonstration. He said he grew up in the Santa Clara area and has been enrolled in Dixie State since he began taking concurrent enrollment classes through Snow Canyon High School.
“Of course Dixie has to go, and if we’re going to change the name, we might as well go with something that incorporates everything that Dixie already had but improves on it,” Fajardo said. “I feel like the other name (Utah Tech University) doesn’t do a good job of locating the school – we’re not an up-north school like the other Utah … universities.”
Fajardo and his fellow student-organizers gave away over 200 T-shirts and countless handfuls of candy while discussing the name change with their peers. The ultimate impact of their efforts remains to be seen, though university officials have expressed confidence in the current proposed name.
DSU Vice President of Marketing and Communications Jordon Sharp said in-depth focus groups and research conducted over the course of the name change process consistently demonstrated that the name should include the academic mission and Utah.
“The focus groups revealed that St. George is not a strong location identifier outside of Utah and still leaves confusion about the university’s location,” Sharp said.
After a number of themes were narrowed down, university officials said two rounds of focus groups were conducted involving approximately 500 individuals in nearly 60 groups.
Those focus groups, along with other key stakeholders, revealed that Utah Tech or a variation thereof was a strong and well received option, Sharp said.
While it’s impossible to please everyone with one name, the university leadership feels that they’ve done their best to choose a name that will meet the criteria from the state Legislature and “check the most boxes for the most people,” Sharp said.
“St. George” name supporters aren’t the only vocal opponents of the proposed name. The segment of students, alumni and community members who favor “Dixie” continue to organize in support of the university’s current name.
The Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition held a “Keep the Name” community event at the Dixie Convention Center on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The coalition invited well-known alumni, including musician Dan Truman and speakers Maureen Booth and Abraham Palmer Thiombiano, to offer their thoughts at the event.
Ed. note: A portion of this report was revised to indicate that nearly 500 people were involved in focus groups examining naming themes, rather than 150 people as originally quoted by Jordan Sharp.
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