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FOX 13 News 360: Why Utahns support or oppose renaming Dixie State University

Dixie State University
Posted at 10:52 PM, Feb 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 01:55:19-05

ST. GEORGE, Utah — This past week, Dixie State University administrators took their request to drop Dixie from the school's name to state legislators. It's a controversial request that many local residents say takes away their rich history and heritage.

In this 360 report, we take a closer look at the issue — talking to the university president, dean of students, current students and local residents, as well as going more in-depth on an impact study on the name "Dixie."

"It was a difficult thing for me because I'm from here. I understand what Dixie means here locally," dean of students and interim vice president of student affairs Del Beatty told FOX 13. "I went to Dixie State. I was a student leader there. I married the Homecoming queen. My sister played basketball there. My grandma was secretary to the president. I played on campus. I mean, I have such a love for Dixie State."

But Beatty says in recent months, he's had a change of heart when it comes to the name.

"Eight years ago, when we first became Dixie State University, there was a discussion at that time about possibly changing the name and I was, you know, lobbying against it. I was rallying the students like this can't happen," he said. "But so much has happened, and I realized that that was the wrong decision. We probably should have done that back then."

Dixie State University President Richard B. Williams spoke to FOX 13 from the state capitol, where he was trying to convince legislators to allow them to drop the name Dixie from the school's name.

"After a lot of study, our board of trustees, my cabinet, my university council, our student executive council and the state board of higher education all voted unanimously to change the name of our university to remove the word Dixie," Williams said.

Williams said they're not trying to erase the area's rich history, but rather improve the future for their students.

"It's a term of endearment and it's something that people are used to and they like," he said. "But the fact of the matter is that the word 'Dixie' means different things to different people outside of southern Utah."

Wednesday, a House committee on higher education approved the bill by an Ogden representative to remove the Dixie name. The bill will now go to the full House and then the Senate.

The effort to change the name was announced in December by administrators who unveiled a school-commissioned Cicero study on the impact of the current name.

According to the report, 25% of Southwestern Utah, 44% of Greater Utah, and 56% out of state respondents believe the name has a negative impact on the institution's general brand.

As for whether Dixie is associated with the Confederacy, 33% of Southern Utah residents, 41% of Utahns and 64% out of state said yes.

Tim Anderson has lived and practiced law in St. George the past 42 years and works with the Coalition to Defend Southwestern Utah Heritage.

"As we all know, it relates back to pioneers. Simply, the pioneers coming to southern Utah to grow cotton," Anderson said.

He acknowledged that in the university's past, there was a time they used the Confederate flag and called themselves the Rebels, something he campaigned to change when he was Dixie College Foundation president in 1991.

"The name 'Dixie' never had anything to do with the confederacy relative to the story of Utah's Dixie," he said.

From the same study, 79% of local residents do not support a name change at the university.

Last month, the Dixie Regional Medical Center became simply Intermountain St. George Regional Hospital.

Richard Miles, a DSU alumnus, attended the December meeting held on campus.

"In our case, they're simply asking us to give up too much. Dixie is the heritage that we grew up with," he told FOX 13 afterward.

Local resident Kris Barber also attended the community discussion.

"The history becomes so important when it comes to a name, and every large university realizes that," she told FOX 13.

They support the "Save Dixie" movement, something growing online like in a Go Fund Me page created by local resident Ilene Hacker. The site has raised more than $10,000.

"We are very hopeful that the legislature will vote against the Dixie State name change," Hacker told FOX 13. "I feel our history and heritage are at stake. My pioneer ancestors came to Southern Utah in 1861 with the Dixie Cotton Mission. DSU Administration is using a race card, where one did not exist.”

Among current students, a majority support the current name, according to the Cicero study.

"I'm for keeping it," DSU junior Christine Clawson told FOX 13. "I do see both sides of it, so I do understand. But I think the majority of people want to keep the name, and I think the majority is what should dictate the name change."

Student Body President Penny Mills is working to change the name. She says there are students that fear repercussions when applying to graduate school or applying for a job because of the name.

"I do understand the ties to the local meaning of it. I understand that, but the rest of the world doesn't. And that's what makes it hard, especially since we are a growing university," Mills said.

Dixie State says it's added 111 academic programs and increased its student body by 41% in the last 5 years. It's growth that school administrators believe may be halted due to the name.

"It's not that we don't love it. It's not that we don't respect it. We just have to be honest that there are more negative connotations than there are positive," DSU Diversity Officer Dr. Tasha Toy told FOX 13 in December.

If you'd like to see the results of the Cicero impact study for yourself, click here.