SALT LAKE CITY — Dixie State University is one step closer to having a new name.
A substitute version of House Bill 278 passed through the Senate Education Committee with a 6-1 vote. It now heads to the Senate floor.
The substitute bill still calls for the school to change its name but adds the creation a “Heritage Committee” funded with $500,000 from the state. This would "preserve the heritage, culture, and history of the region and institution," the bill stated.
Before the committee made its decision, several current Dixie State students implored the senators to push for the name change.
Some argued having the word “Dixie” on their resume creates unnecessary hurdles when applying for jobs outside of Utah.
“I’ve done amazing things in my lifetime, and I want to discuss that with them and not what the meaning is in southern Utah,” said Morgan Olsen. “I want my university to be a launching pad for me. I don’t want to put my future up to chance.”
“Personally, for me, this school saved my life,” added Deven Osborne. “Lots of great opportunities I’ve gotten at this school just because of athletics. So, I don’t want kids around me to lose that opportunity because of the name of the school.”
Richard Williams, the president of the university, also spoke in support of the bill.
“The University is thrilled with the action taken today by the Legislature,” Williams said. “H.B. 278 will keep the name change process initiated by the DSU Board of Trustees moving forward. We are excited to continue working with community and institutional partners to identify a name that reflects our new academic focus and fully supports our students’ and alumni’s goals.”
“I have also been asked whether or not I have been getting pressure from cancel culture activists, or BLM or antifa. The simple answer to that is, no,” he added. “I not only think we should, I think we must change the name of our institution.”
The school's Board of Trustees, Student Association Council and the Utah Board of Higher Education also support a name change. A study commissioned by the university showed the name turned off prospective employers, hurting graduating students entering the workforce.
Those who oppose the change argue that the name has nothing to do with the Confederacy. Several residents of Washington County made the four-hour trek to the state Capitol to voice their opposition to the bill.
They say the name is not meant to be racist or divisive, but rather is a nod to the history of the region’s first settlers who called the region “Utah’s Dixie.”
“I feel this is a very one-sided process,” one woman told the committee. “I am going to tell you how we have been berated and belittled. The DSU senate president called our heritage ‘cute’ and ‘quaint.’”
Both sides of the possible name change have gathered support over the past few weeks. After first appearing to table the bill after it was passed in the House, Senate Republicans finally agreed last week to hear the bill during the current legislative session.
Another speaker who opposed the bill added, “You made your decisions before I fired my truck up and drove up here.”
Senate President J. Stuart Adams refutes that, however.
“Creating a space for public input and listening to all sides of the issue is our duty as legislators,” Adams said. “We do not take our responsibility lightly, and as such, were compelled to find consensus with the community and the university before moving the bill forward through the legislative process. By listening to all sides, we found a solution that involves the community and respects the goals of the university.”
If the bill passes in the Senate, it will head back to the floor of the House for another vote.
After clearing those hurdles, it would then go to the desk of Gov. Spencer Cox.
If the bill is signed by the governor, the deadline for proposing a new name is November 1, 2021.