Supporters and opponents of the Dixie State name change show up for last chance public hearing

Supporters of the name "Dixie" gathered at the Utah State Capitol during the Education Interim Meeting, Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 9, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Ilene Hacker, St. George News

ST. GEORGEVoting on the Dixie State University name change was one of nine issues outlined in the call for a special session of the Utah State Legislature, and after a day of discussion and hearing public comment, legislators are set to vote on the proposed name as early as Wednesday morning.

Stock image | Photo by Jason Finn/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

The Education Interim Committee met at 1:45 p.m. to review the legislation that formally began the name change process, designated H.B. 278 in the 2021 Legislature, and hear from the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kelly Miles. 

“The bill that we have before us is to adopt that name that was recommended by the committee, and at this point we feel that the committee, the board of trustees and the state board of higher education have fulfilled their charge and they’ve brought us the name of Utah Tech University to approve,” Miles said.

Miles invited several contributors to the name change process to share their perspective and their hopes for the new name. Dixie State President Richard Williams led a group of university officials and alumni that spoke in favor of the new name and in praise of the name change process.

“Changing the name of Dixie State University is not something that anyone really seeks out,” Williams said. “The only reason why a president or administration would take this on is for the betterment of our students. I want you to hear from me personally that I’m confident that the process has resulted in the very best name for our institution, for our region and for our state.”

Name Change Committee Chair Julie Beck joined Williams, along with Alumnus Danny Ipson and Chair Harris Simmons with the Utah Board of Higher Education in praising the thoroughness of the name change process and briefly describing the benefits they see for the proposed name.

File photo: Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson expresses his support for the name “Dixie” at DSU and its regional meaning, St. George, Utah, Nov. 1, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson spoke in counterpoint to the Utah Tech supporters and invited several alumni and former DSU employees to explain their continuing support of the name “Dixie.” 

“It’s not just about a name change – this is much deeper for my county,” Iverson said. “You can’t take Dixie away from the university because the name and the word Dixie is throughout my county. We’re asking very respectfully that you take a moment, pause and step back from this.”

Iverson’s invited speakers also shared their love for the name Dixie and their interpretation of its meaning, as well as calling into question the validity of research and responses gathered throughout the name change process.

“The name Dixie is not offensive,” said Alumnus Abraham Thiombiano. “It is not racist. If we take away the Dixie name, we’re essentially punishing those folks who have supported the school, those folks who were taught at the school, those folks who have graduated from the school and telling them that they should have known better.”

Following the opening remarks by invited speakers, the legislators on the committee asked questions of Williams and Iverson, including the estimated cost of the name change and the previous efforts by county officials to steer away from “Dixie” for better national recognition.

A rendering of what the eastern grandstand at the Greater Zion Stadium is anticipated to look like once the Greater Zion rebranding is set in place. | Image courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News

Williams said the name change was estimated to cost a little more than $2.7 million, and Iverson said the branding advice the county has followed for some time has preferred Greater Zion as a regional identifier because Dixie was not well-recognized outside of Southern Utah.

Following the legislators’ questions, members of the public addressed the committee and shared their support or opposition to the proposed name. 

Morgan Olson, a current student at DSU, said, “The Dixie State name change isn’t an issue of us looking at history with a sense of presentism. We aren’t trying to change our history nor bury it under the rug, but instead, we hope to move on from the mistakes we’ve made to continue to blaze a trail that will lead to success, inclusivity and promote what we all know our community is.” (see Ed. note)

Washington County residents, business leaders, university administrators, donors and students were all given the opportunity to share their personal history with the university and their thoughts on the name’s impacts to students and the wider community. Some spoke hopefully of new partnerships and better prospects available through the new name, while others shared their feelings of heartache and frustration related to any departure from “Dixie.”

To accommodate the large number of citizens hoping to offer comments, each speaker’s time was shortened and the meeting was extended 15 minutes past the initial end time. The Legislature used the limited time remaining in their chamber session to vote on other issues, leaving the final vote on the proposed name for later.

A rendering of possible apparel options showing off the proposed name replacing Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, image undated | Photo courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News

The legislative session is the latest step in a name change process that began in July 2020 when university officials announced they would gather information about the school’s name. Most recently, the Utah Board of Higher Education unanimously approved the proposed name, Utah Tech University, in an Oct. 27 vote.

If approved at some point during this session by the Legislature, the name would go to Gov. Spencer Cox for final approval. If the name is rejected, it would fall to the name change committee led by Beck to resume efforts to find a suitable name for the university.

Ed. note: An earlier version of this story had Morgan Olson identified as “Morgan Wilson.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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