SALT LAKE CITY — A bill has been introduced in the Utah State Legislature to formally change Dixie State University's name.
House Bill 278, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Miles, R-Ogden, would begin the process to change the name of the southwestern Utah university, which has faced controversy over its name for years. Last year, Dixie State's Board of Trustees and the Utah Board of Higher Education voted to recommend a name change away from "Dixie."
Rep. Miles, who chairs the Higher Education Appropriations Committee, told FOX 13 that the university is evolving and the name ought to reflect the future of the school.
"I believe it is time for a change," he said.
For years, there has been calls to drop the name "Dixie" over connotations to the South and the confederacy. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has long called for a name change.
Supporters of the name have claimed it is tied to that region's pioneer heritage and the settling of the St. George area. As calls for a name change have picked up again, many have protested to keep the name "Dixie."
In 2012, FOX 13 reported on efforts to change the name of the school as people showcased the school's yearbooks that were titled "The Confederate" and highlighted students waving the flag of the Civil War army and sporting blackface.
"If you go back and look at all the yearbooks and the rebels and the statues and selling slave auction day. What does that have to do about education?" said Jeanetta Williams, the president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP.
Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, who works at Dixie State University and whose district includes southern Utah, said he supported a name change.
"I know the people in southern Utah are not bigots, they’re not racists. I fear they may be unfairly judged at some point in time if we don’t take this step," he told FOX 13 on Monday. "I honestly do believe in my heart of hearts that for the growth of the university and for our students, this is the best thing."
Rep. Miles said discussions about the "Dixie" name have been going on for decades. Acknowledging some people's feelings about keeping the name, he said it does not mean the association with pioneer heritage goes away.
"One thing we’re asking as a legislature, is if we do pass this legislation that Dixie State University, they reach to the public, that they reach out to all the parties involved and come back with a recommendation that doesn’t include the name 'Dixie' in it, but it does take into consideration the region and what it stands for and the state and some of the heritage. I think we can make it a win win for all parties involved," he said.
The bill is expected to face controversy on Utah's Capitol Hill. Lex Scott, the founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, said it was a good bill.
"Utah was never a part of the confederacy. That name is a reflection of racism and should be changed. It is refreshing that Utah is not trying to hold onto racism, but is instead evolving. We support this move," Scott said in a text message to FOX 13.
Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said the issue is a very emotional one for southern Utah residents.
"On a local level down there, there’s a lot of people that feel that 'Dixie' is a part of the culture and they don’t want to change and don’t want to see it change," he said.
Sen. Vickers would not say how he would vote on the bill. Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, suggested it might be a close vote in the Senate.