ST. GEORGE, Utah -- In a unanimous vote, Dixie State College's Board of Trustees voted to keep the name "Dixie" when the school becomes a university later this month.
"This is a sentinel day for this part of the state and we are delighted to have a university coming," said former state lawmaker Dave Clark, now a member of the Board of Trustees.
The vote was not without emotion or controversy, as trustees acknowledged the heated debate in recent months over the "Dixie" name. But an overwhelming 83 percent of those surveyed supported the name "Dixie" for the school.
"Based on public response, it's obvious that it would be inappropriate for the trustees to vote any other way than what the public would want," Brody Mikesell, Dixie State's Student Body President, said with emotion. "But it would also be equally inappropriate to not recognize the 17 percent that are affected just as strongly by this debate and by the name Dixie."
The debate over what to name the future university has been mired in controversy over the use of the word “Dixie.” Supporters insist the name is tied to Utah’s Mormon pioneer heritage, when settlers moved into the St. George area to grow cotton. But opponents point to Confederate mascots and flags that adorned the campus and racist behavior on campus in years past, including “blackface” skits.
On Friday, the Salt Lake Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People decried the vote.
"They're not sensitized to the issue at all," said local NAACP chapter president Jeanetta Williams. "They're just looking at it saying, 'We've always been called Dixie.' "
After voting Friday, Dixie State's Board of Trustees made an "acknowledgment" of the controversy surrounding the school's history of Confederate regalia on campus. FOX 13 first reported last week the school was contemplating an apology for past instances of racism.
"We suggest that we have made an acknowledgment that was important to make, and we have retired those symbols," said Dixie State College Board of Trustees Chairman Steven Caplin.
Recently, the school removed a statue of confederate soldiers from campus. Previously, Dixie State abandoned its Confederate "rebel" mascot to become the "Red Storm."
The NAACP said it would continue to press the Utah Board of Regents and the Utah State Legislature to dump the "Dixie" name. Williams said she was in favor of "University of St. George," noting that when Dixie State was founded it was "St. George Stake Academy."
"If they want to entice people of color to come to Dixie and make it more diverse, they're going to have to look at changing names," Williams said. "Right now they're saying they don't care and they're going to keep it the same."