ST. GEORGE — Dixie State University students and community members gathered Monday morning on campus to protest the Utah Board of Higher Education’s unanimous vote to recommend changing the institution’s name.
According to St. George News, protesters met at the western corner of 300 South and 700 East and marched north, crossed the street onto campus and met in front of the Jeffrey R. Holland Centennial Commons building. The purpose of the protest, organized by a collaboration of students and community members, was to emphasize that the name “Dixie” represents a welcoming, fun, happy place to be, Kanton Vause, a former Dixie State student and organizer of the event, told St. George News.
“We want people to understand that we’re passionate about the name,” he said. “It represents our identity and our culture and our history. We’re proud of it, we love it, and we want other people to know that we’re not looking for a fight; We just want to be able to practice and live and celebrate what we are and who we are.”
The recommendation for the name change comes after an impact study presented to the Board of Trustees by the university in August stated that 25% of Southern Utahns believed the name has a negative impact on the school’s brand and that 22% of recent Dixie State graduates had difficulties finding jobs outside of Utah because of the name “Dixie” on their resumes, among other things, as previously reported by St. George News. Local attorney and protester Troy Blanchard said those numbers are false.
“Lie number one: the students can’t get jobs. That is the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard,” Blanchard told the crowd of protesters. “How many people reported they had trouble getting a job? Twelve …. They want to change the name based on that.”
In past years when the topic of changing the university’s name came up, the community overwhelmingly supported “Dixie State University,” Blanchard said, adding that Board of Trustees Chair David Clark lied to him in September when he said the name would not be changed.
“They were angry at us not because we wanted to keep the name. They were angry at us because we dared to even suggest that they wanted to change the name,” Blanchard said. “‘No way,’ he swore up and down to me personally and to all of us publicly that they were not going to change the name.”
Former St. George Mayor Dan McArthur also spoke to protesters and encouraged them all to sing “Are You From Dixie” together. The message of the song includes all of the Washington County area, he said, and represents pride and the love that Southern Utahns have for their hometowns.
Counter protestors stood on the opposite corner of 300 South and 700 East and held signs in favor of the name change. As the protestors marched past, some did interact with the counter-protestors but the exchanges were peaceful.
“This was Utah’s Dixie long before Brigham Young and others called it,” McArthur said. “Harvard, Princeton and all the others are keeping their names even though they know of a lot of things that are not right. And it wasn’t right. There’s a lot of things that happened here that weren’t right in our history. We don’t change it; we just become better.”
“I have lived in this area my entire life,” Spider Porter, one of the counter-protesters, told St. George News. “I am all for the change of the name because as it stands … it’s history that doesn’t connect to Utah as strongly as they might suggest.”
Because the word “Dixie” alludes to cotton picked by slaves, Porter said it does not accurately represent the area’s history and is outdated.
Dixie State officials defended their decision to recommend a name change in a statement to St. George News, saying the change is in the best interest of students’ futures.
“The University appreciates and shares in the community’s love for our institution and heritage,” the statement says. “However, the local meaning of Dixie is not understood outside of the region and is causing our students proven and unnecessary difficulties. Many potential employers and grad schools are confused and concerned when they see the word Dixie on a resume. Although we are dedicated to honoring and preserving Southern Utah’s history, we cannot do so at the expense of our students.”
The Board of Higher Education recommended the name change to the state legislature, who are now tasked with making the final decision on whether to change it before the university and the community can decide on a new name, as previously reported by St. George News.