SALT LAKE CITY — Following student protests and backroom negotiations, the Utah State Senate has agreed to have the Dixie State University name change bill heard in the 2021 legislative session.
FOX 13 first reported on an agreement between Senate Republican leaders on Wednesday morning, after the bill had seemingly stalled. The House had already overwhelmingly passed House Bill 278.
"We feel it is disingenuous if it is not heard," said Cory O'Bray, a Dixie State University student who gathered with dozens of others outside the Utah State Capitol on Wednesday to protest and call for HB278 to go forward.
Senate President J. Stuart Adams met personally with a group of Dixie State University students who implored him to grant the bill a hearing.
"It needs to happen now. The controversy that’s surrounding the community and the university it’s going to be too detrimental if we wait another year," said Morgan Olsen.
Deven Osborne, a DSU football player, said students must answer for the name "Dixie" every time they go outside of the state.
"We’re getting ready to prepare for a trip in Texas," he told FOX 13. "Coming in as Dixie State will give us the wrong tone."
DSU's Board of Trustees, Student Association Council and the Utah Board of Higher Education all support a name change. Supporters of dropping "Dixie" have argued that the university embraced Civil War Confederacy icons, including a "rebel" mascot and flying the confederate flag on campus. Photos from the school's yearbook, entitled "The Confederate," show students in blackface.
But it has faced resistance from members of the southwestern Utah communities surrounding it who argue the name has closer connotations with Latter-day Saint pioneers who settled in the warmer climate. They have pushed back on the bill arguing Utah is giving in to "political correctness" and "cancel culture."
Political leaders on Capitol Hill have been reluctant to change the name, until the university started pressing for it and arguing it was hurting recruitment and retention. The bill passed the Utah State House and has been championed by House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville.
But the Senate was reluctant. On Wednesday, an agreement was made to give the bill a committee hearing.
"The bill will be heard," said Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.
But the bill may be tweaked. Meeting with reporters, Sen. Adams, R-Layton, said there may be a pathway for more community input.
"I think we’re looking to try to facilitate the best way to make that change," he said of the bill.
Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, who has opposed changing the name, said the bill will now include more community input.
"There’s a process in this bill and we’re going to expand on that, that puts it back to the community to have input on that. That’s been my contention all along is the community hasn’t had enough input to have a reasonable say and buy-in on it," he told reporters.
But whether the name "Dixie" goes away (as the current bill calls for) remains to be seen now.
"Is there a way to make the process even better? And is there a way to improve that process?" asked Sen. McKell. "Is there a way to improve that process with students in a respectful way? With the community in that respectful way?"