UPDATE: In a close vote, Utah Senate makes decision on changing Dixie State’s name

ST. GEORGE — Both the Utah House and Senate voted Wednesday in favor of changing Dixie State University’s name to Utah Tech University.

Dixie State University campus, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News

Updated Nov. 10, 5:47 p.m., The story has been updated to include the Senate’s decision.

In the Wednesday afternoon meeting of the Utah State House of Representatives, legislators voted 56-15 in favor of adopting “Utah Tech University” as the new name for Dixie State University. 

Southern Utah representatives, Rep. Bradley Last (R-Hurricane) and Rep. V. Lowry Snow (R-St. George) voted yes on the name change, designated HB 2001 in the 2021 Legislature. Rep. Walt Brooks (R-St. George), Rep. Travis Seegmiller (R-St. George) and Rep. Rex Shipp (R-Cedar City) voted against the name change.

Prior to the vote, Last spoke with St. George News and acknowledged his employment at the university, but said it gave him a front-row seat to the negative impacts suffered by students, athletes and faculty related to the name Dixie.

“Dixie is great as a local name, and I don’t think businesses or even the local high school need to change their names,” Last said. “My motivation is doing what I think is best for the university, for the students and for the state of Utah. That’s why I’m supportive of the name change.”

During the discussion on the House floor, Brooks (R-St. George) said he opposed the name change because the investigation into the name’s effects and perception was inherently flawed and said removing the name would erase some of the region’s history.

In this Feb. 2021 file photo, Rep. Walt Brooks speaks on the House floor at the Utah State Capital, Salt Lake City | Photo courtesy of the Utah Legislature, St. George News

“The name is not keeping people out of jobs, it’s not keeping people out of going to higher education, and we are way more sensitive to ideas that we weren’t accustomed to before,” Brooks said. “They’re coming here because Utah stands on principle, on behavior and on performance, not on some theoretical thing that might have happened.”

The bill was amended to move the effective date of the name change to July 1, 2022, and Snow added an amendment that would designate the St. George campus as the “Dixie Campus.”

In response to the news that the House had approved Utah Tech, DSU President Richard Williams said he was grateful that the Legislature had acknowledged the efforts of all contributors to the name change process.

“We were really excited to see the House of Representatives support us, and I really enjoyed the student focus they had in their comments and also the focus on their community,” Williams said. “I appreciated that many representatives not only are focusing on our students, but also realizing that what we have down in Southern Utah is pretty special.”

File photo: Penny Mills speaks with a reporter alongside other students expressing their frustration with the local response to the name change process, St. George, Utah, Nov. 1, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Student Body President Penny Mills said she was excited to see the bill pass the House, but the process isn’t complete yet. She said she was concerned about the amendment giving the name “Dixie” to the campus instead of the university.

“I don’t think that students will be pleased with it,” Mills said. “During our trustees meeting when there was the initial vote, I voted against it (the amendment) because I don’t think that the student body is supportive of that, nor do I think they will be in the future. But I do think it will be good for the community, at least for the next few years.”

Earlier this week, the Education Interim Committee heard from members of the public and questioned representatives speaking for and against the name change. 

Senate vote

Senators from around the state took to the chamber floor Wednesday evening to vote on the new name for Dixie State.

With no absent members, the senate approved the name “Utah Tech University” in a 17-12 vote. 

Both Southern Utah senators voted against the measure to advance Utah Tech University, which ultimately passed 17-12, Nov. 10, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Utah State Legislature, St. George News

Waiting to vote until only he and Sen. President Stuart Adams remained undeclared, Sen. Don Ipson (R-St. George) voiced his dissent and explained his reasons for opposing the removal of “Dixie.”

“The people of St. George, Washington County and alumni throughout the world will be disappointed about this,” Ipson said. “I earlier today negotiated with the parties involved to keep the name ‘Dixie’ on the university and the community. I will work hard and make the first donation to the heritage group. Let’s make that … a place for people to go that they can be proud of.”

Ipson was joined by fellow Southern Utah Sen. Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City) in opposition to the proposed name.

The deliberations in the state Legislature are the latest step in a long process that was formally authorized by the Legislature in March 2021.

With passage in the Senate, the bill’s final destination is the governor’s desk, where Gov. Spencer Cox is expected to formally accept the new name.

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

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